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International Players Championships : Error-Prone Evert Just Manages to Beat Kelesi

Times Staff Writer

A sudden shower began while Chris Evert was playing her match Tuesday.

Even before the chair umpire could call a rain delay, Evert started walking off the court. Only then did the umpire announce the rain delay.

Of course, this was only proper protocol.

For a long time, all of southern Florida has been under the provincial rule of Evert. It’s her own Magic Kingdom.

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But in a match that began in sunshine, went through rain and wind and finished in darkness, Evert weathered an upset bid by 19-year-old Canadian Helen Kelesi and walked off the court again, this time a winner at the Lipton International Players Championships.

Evert prevailed, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, in a 3-hour 17-minute marathon that featured a 1-hour 8-minute rain delay, a five-minute injury delay, 14 service breaks and three balls hit out of the stadium.

Actual elapsed time from when the match began to when it ended at 7:04 p.m., counting both delays, was 4 hours 27 minutes. But who’s counting? Not Evert.

“I’m not exactly proud of myself,” she said.

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But because Evert, 34, could beat someone little more than half her age, she reached the semifinals, where she will play Zina Garrison, a 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 winner over Jana Novotna of Czechoslovakia.

In the other semifinal match, top-seeded Gabriela Sabatini will play Helena Sukova. Sabatini was slowed more by the afternoon showers than by Isabelle Demongeot, whom she defeated, 6-1, 7-5. Sukova, meanwhile, started slowly but finished fast in a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Rafaella Reggi.

The margin of Evert’s victory over Kelesi was the third-set tiebreaker. Evert won every point in the 7-0 tiebreaker. It was clearly the high point of her afternoon and early evening.

“I played a perfect tiebreaker and not a perfect match,” she said.

It must have seemed to Evert that she was playing a mirror image of herself in Kelesi. A pair of matched baseliners thumping topspin at each other until the mirror cracked.

The stocky Kelesi cracked first, but only after she got some needed rest because of the rain delay and also a strange injury timeout at a time Evert was picking up strength in the third set.

At 3-2, Kelesi lost her serve at love and quickly called for the trainer to tape her left ankle. Her other ankle had been taped before the match. Kelesi was given a five-minute timeout while Evert did a slow burn.

Afterward, Evert did not seem sure if Kelesi’s ankle truly needed care or if it had been a ploy to rest.

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“All I can tell you is she ran very well,” Evert said. “She ran like a deer. I didn’t notice her slowing down at all.”

Kelesi said she has been having problems with both ankles. Her other problem was keeping the ball inside the stadium. Three times she hit the ball wildly and sent it out of the stadium.

The 14th-ranked Kelesi, whose nickname is Hurricane Helen, often blows up at herself and sometimes at others around her.

In Tuesday’s match, Kelesi exchanged words with linespeople and photographers, and once shouted into the stands. All the same, she is a great player, Evert said.

“She should be a top-10 player,” Evert said. “I don’t think she’s a No. 1 player because of her size. She’s a perfectionist. She gets down on herself, but she’s a fighter.”

That trait became evident to Evert when she was serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set. Evert, who had just broken Kelesi’s serve, double-faulted for the ninth time in the match at break point.

She had done the same thing before. At 3-2 in the second set, Evert fought off one break point and then held a game point before she floated a forehand wide to return to deuce.

Evert double-faulted to break point, then missed a crosscourt backhand wide to give Kelesi the break.

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With Kelesi serving at 5-4 and on set point, Evert tried to finesse a backhand drop shot, but she was too far back and hit it into the net instead.

“There were three or four parts of the match where I should have taken charge,” Evert said. “There are moments when I’m playing well, running well, and then there will be a lapse.”

But there were no lapses in the tiebreaker, which was over in a hurry. After Kelesi sent a forehand wide for an error, Evert hit three consecutive winners to take a 4-0 lead. Three Kelesi errors ended it, possibly not a minute too soon for Evert.

At her age, there will be more times when she is liable to be beaten, she has said. This was nearly one of those occasions.

“I was in trouble,” Evert said.


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