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WIMBLEDON : Evert Shown the Way Out in Semifinal : After Her 6-2, 6-1 Loss to Graf, a Last Wave From Centre Court

Times Staff Writer

At 12 minutes past 3 on a humid Thursday afternoon, Chris Evert sat in a green chair at the side of Centre Court and looked around one last time.

She took off her wristband and packed it in her bag. Then she put her racket inside, zipped up the bag, toweled herself off and slipped into a white jacket.

A curtsy, a wave and a wry smile to her family sitting in the stands, and Evert was gone.

In 1 hour 8 minutes of tennis, an era passed at Wimbledon, where Evert is not likely to play again.

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It was a graceful, but not unexpected, exit for the 34-year-old Evert, ushered forcefully off the grass courts by Steffi Graf, who scored a 6-2, 6-1 semifinal victory.

Next for Graf, the preeminent force in women’s tennis, is Martina Navratilova, who has shared the era with Evert and may also share her fate in the final.

Navratilova fought a swirling wind and Catarina Lindqvist of Sweden in her semifinal match before beating them both, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2.

There will be another day for Navratilova at Wimbledon, but almost certainly not for Evert. Afterward, she said she is 90% sure her Wimbledon career is over.

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“I would be shocked if I came back and played this tournament next year,” Evert said. “I don’t know, it would take a transplant or something.”

What kind of transplant?

“Here,” Evert said, tapping her forehead.

Evert did not go out quietly against Graf, although the score indicated little resistence. There were a few chances for Evert to make the score closer but not to change the outcome.

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Down a break in the first set, she held three break points for 2-4, but Graf saved them all. At 0-1 in the second set, Evert missed another break point and blew two more break points for 2-2.

After that, Graf offered no more opportunities. She held at 30 for 5-1 and aced Evert on game point. In what was the last game of the match, Graf broke Evert for the fifth and final time.

This was neither the kind of tennis Evert had played when younger, nor the kind that Graf had seen early in their rivalry. Evert won their first six meetings, but now Graf has won eight straight.

“For one thing, which was a little bit different, usually (in the past) she knew what to do on the big points and she had more experience and everything,” Graf said.

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"(But) today there were a lot of close games, and I was down a couple of break points and I always managed to get those points. That’s where her strength usually was and what has become more or less my strength now.”

On the second match point, Evert double-faulted. That is not the best way to end 18 years at Wimbledon, but Evert certainly enjoyed many other moments.

She won the title three times--in 1974, 1976 and 1981. From Evert’s first match in 1972, a three-set victory over Valerie Ziegenfuss, to her defeat Thursday, Evert’s Wimbledon record is 96-15.

In 18 years at Wimbledon, Evert reached the final 10 times. Graf made sure that Evert had only a small chance of getting there again.

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“She’s so quick and she’s so strong, and obviously that’s why she’s No. 1,” Evert said. “She was just a lot better than I was today--today and every day.”

There may be no more days for Evert to send eerily efficient two-fisted backhands into the deepest corner of grass on Centre Court. Maybe that’s why she waved as she did while she walked away. It was not something Evert usually does. It seemed to be a wave goodby.

Billie Jean King once told Evert that she had made a conscious effort to do something special to savor the moment of her last match on the most famous court in tennis, and Evert seemed to be imitating the symbol of the era before hers.

“A lot of things were going through my head,” Evert said. “It could be my last time, you know, on Centre Court. And just that, you know--Centre Court is the greatest court in the world, and I’ll always remember it.

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“I think that the older I got, the more it meant to me to play on Centre Court and to play Wimbledon. You know, when you’re young, I always knew in the back of my mind I had time on my side.

“But I think the last few years, I think I’ve really kind of looked around a little bit more and realized that isn’t going to be around me for much longer. You know, it’s not in my future plans. And sometimes you appreciate things a little more when you get older.”

Navratilova, two years younger than Evert, hasn’t played Graf since losing to her in last year’s Wimbledon final. In getting there again, Navratilova had little trouble with the unseeded Lindqvist after winning the first-set tiebreaker.

A change of tactics helped. Navratilova stopped chipping service returns on her backhand and began swinging through the ball.

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Lindqvist, the first Swedish woman to play in a Wimbledon semifinal, led the tiebreaker, 5-4, but lost her serve twice, and Navratilova closed it out with a service winner.

Navratilova, seeded second, lost only two points on her serve in the second set, and both were on double faults.

Actually, maybe the biggest problem Navratilova had during the match was swallowing. Saliva stuck in her throat and caused her a few anxious moments.

“I was just breathing and it went down the wrong hole,” Navratilova said. “My stomach was a mess, tears running down my face, I thought, ‘What else can happen to me on Centre Court?’

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“I’ve been through it all. I’ve been hit in the head by a ball, I’ve whiffed a ball, my shirt fell off. I was just walking and all of a sudden I can’t breathe. I was just a mess.”

Navratilova said it’s difficult for her to think about a Wimbledon without Evert.

Beginning in 1976, Navratilova and Evert have played nine matches at Wimbledon, and Navratilova won seven times. They met in five finals, and Navratilova won them all.

“I can’t really fathom that because we have been going at it for so long that a piece of me would be gone with her that’s tucked away, that only she and I share,” Navratilova said. “That will always be there though, regardless of whether she’s playing or not.”

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For Evert, there was a feeling of relief at having lived up to her fourth seeding, as well as the realization that there could be no disgrace in losing to the top-seeded player.

“I thought after the match, after a couple of those rallies, ‘Boy, if I was 10 years younger,’ ” Evert said.

Tennis Notes

The top two U.S. doubles teams won their quarterfinal matches and headed toward a possible showdown in the final. The No. 1-seeded team of Rick Leach and Jim Pugh defeated Darren Cahill and Mark Kratzmann of Australia, 3-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3. Second-seeded Ken Flach and Robert Seguso beat Pieter Aldrich and Danie Visser of South Africa, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. . . . Next for Leach and Pugh are Javier Frana of Argentina and Leonardo Lavalle of Mexico. Flach and Seguso will play the third-seeded team of John Fitzgerald of Australia and Anders Jarryd of Sweden. “We’re staying mentally stable because it’s all fresh for us,” Leach said. “We really haven’t been through this before.” Leach and Pugh lost in the round of 16 last year.

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