Evert Keeps New Age On Hold With Sweep

Times Staff Writer

On the occasion of what was supposed to be her final match at the U.S. Open, Chris Evert wore a bright red ribbon in her hair.

She looked much younger than 34, maybe not as youthful as the ponytailed schoolgirl she was about to play, the one who many expected to beat her, but certainly Evert did not look her age.

For one more sunny Sunday afternoon, Evert did not play like her age either. So at the moment she won her 101st U.S. Open match, Evert pumped her fist, shook the hand of Monica Seles and celebrated a 6-0, 6-2 victory.

What had transpired was judged, by most accounts, as a landmark match in women's tennis, one which marked the junction of two careers meeting on a tennis court before they take off again in opposite directions.

Everyone knew the story line. It was Seles, 15, the up-and-coming star, playing the veteran, the superstar, near the end of her career. Evert knew it all too well. She had already experienced it once, 19 years ago.

"I felt like Margaret Court out there today and Chris Evert was on the other side of the net . . . I was 15 when I played Margaret Court and beat her for the first time," Evert said.

Seles could not do the same with her opportunity to lay a legend to rest. Worried all week about having to play Evert, when it actually happened, Seles did so tentatively and showed nerves.

Afterward, Seles sounded a positive note about the one-sided defeat.

"Now, I won't have to play her again, hopefully," Seles said.

That task falls to Zina Garrison, who meets Evert in the quarterfinals and knows very well what she is up against.

"She is a competitor," Garrison said.

Evert needed to prove herself once again against Seles, who hits two-fisted from both sides and equally as hard from either. Born in Yugoslavia, Seles is coached by Nick Bollettieri at his tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla., and is the brightest pupil there.

In April, Seles shocked Evert by beating her in the final of the Virginia Slims of Houston and since then has been hailed as the leader of the new generation of women's players just as surely as Evert represents the older generation.

Already ranked No. 12, Seles is certain to be No. 2 or No. 3 within the next two years, said Evert, whose own No. 4 ranking is her lowest.

But because of what is beneath that red ribbon, Evert is still capable of occasional brilliance.

She weathered a galaxy of moonballs, a 42-shot rally, six break points in one game and a player 19 years younger, but not yet mentally as tough.

"It was a big win for it . . . a huge win for me," Evert said.

"I think the pressure was really off me because I think a lot of people expected Monica to win. I kept thinking when I knew I had to play Monica that, 'Isn't it ironic that I would draw her of all people?' And, 'If this is my last big match, wouldn't it be even more ironic if she beat me?'

"Maybe that was fate. It entered my mind for one second and it made me more determined. I don't know why it happened today. I'm just so pleased it did."

Evert served to begin the match and fell behind, 0-30, but fought back to deuce and outlasted Seles in a 42-shot rally before she closed the game.

At 4-0, Evert faced six break points and saved each one. When Evert blasted a backhand down the line to go up, 5-0, Seles never made a move for the ball.

Seles broke to 1-2 in the second set, but Evert broke back. Seles tried a drop shot on the break point against her, but Evert ran down the ball and lifted the ball back to Seles, who was waiting at the net.

With an open court to shoot for, Seles instead tried to go behind Evert down the line and hit the ball wide.

After that, it was over quickly. Seles discarded going for the moonballs after getting booed by the crowd, which was clearly on Evert's side.

Seles seemed relieved for the match to be over, regardless of the result. She smiled and gave the crowd a tiny wave as she walked off the court with Evert, who was also smiling broadly and waving.

Seles said she understood the protocol.

"If I was as old as Chris, the fans would be on my side, too, if I was there playing my final match," Seles said. "I have 15 or 20 years before I'm like Chris--one more lifetime than I have now."

At the same time, Evert's lifetime of tennis is drawing to a close. Garrison has the next chance to end Evert's career at the Open. And, waiting quietly, is an even more appropriate foe: Martina Navratilova.

Navratilova said she watched a few rallies of the Evert-Seles match.

"She seemed to be dancing through that match pretty nicely," said Navratilova, who was asked if she is rooting for Evert.

"That's a silly question," Navratilova said. "Of course I'm rooting for her. I have nothing against Monica, her day will come, but you don't want to see Chris losing to a youngster like that in a round like that."

Garrison had some trouble with Donna Faber of Hilton Head, S.C., but won, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).

Navratilova scorched Regina Rajchrtova of Czechoslovakia, 6-2, 6-0, in 53 minutes and will face Manuela Maleeva of Bulgaria in the quarterfinals. Maleeva defeated Natalia Zvereva of the Soviet Union, 6-2, 6-0.

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