Garrison’s Shocker Puts Graf Out Cold : Wimbledon: The No. 1 women’s player is stunned in three sets. Navratilova beats Sabatini in the other semifinal.


The world of women’s tennis started spinning a little faster at Wimbledon, where on a dreary, gray, cold Thursday afternoon, the temperature and Steffi Graf fell like a drop shot.

Zina Garrison, a 26-year-old Texan from the public courts of Houston, was splendid on the grass of Centre Court. Garrison, who had never won a Grand Slam semifinal, scored a shocking 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Graf, the two-time defending champion.

The final on Saturday, which once seemed sure to include Graf, instead pits Garrison against Martina Navratilova, who defeated Gabriela Sabatini, 6-3, 6-4.


Navratilova reacted to Graf’s defeat by shrugging her shoulders.

“I am playing somebody nobody expected to be there,” she said.

Even though Navratilova did her part to reach the expected showdown with Graf, the 21-year-old West German unexpectedly found herself on the short end of a long match.

The temperature plummeted to 45 degrees and spectators huddled together, many of them wearing parkas because of the biting wind. At 4:06 p.m., after 2 hours 2 minutes, they saw Garrison send an ace down the middle on match point.

Garrison raised both arms in triumph and ran to the net to shake hands with Graf.

“It was just made to be,” Garrison said.

It was just a colossal upset. Garrison scored her only other victory over Graf in 1985 and had lost five times to her since. In the 3 1/2 years since she became No. 1, Graf’s record was 269-9.


Graf, though, put her defeat into perspective.

“Just a simple loss,” she said. “Is it a tragedy? Is it a disaster? Who knows?”

Garrison’s ploy was to come in on Graf’s backhand and stand firm at the net, no matter how hot Graf’s forehand.

“I just guessed right at the right time,” Garrison said. “And the main thing, I wasn’t afraid of her power. A lot of people are afraid of her power when she hits the forehand.”

Graf’s trademark shot, the most feared weapon in women’s tennis, was strangely inconsistent against Garrison. But Graf’s serve betrayed her in the first set.

The early advantage went to Garrison when she broke Graf in the second and fourth games for a 4-1 lead. Graf broke back to reach 4-2, but at 5-3, she double-faulted, giving Garrison a set point, and then stroked a forehand wide, to end the first set.

Graf won the second set in 39 minutes and began feeling good about her game for the first time.

“After I won the second set, I thought I was playing a little better, so I was thinking, ‘I’m back in the match,’ and I thought I would be OK,” she said.

She was not. Graf lost the second game of the third set when Garrison’s return of a second serve--a backhand down the line--made the most of a third break-point opportunity.

Down 2-1, Graf had two break-point chances in the next game, but Garrison saved one when Graf made a forehand error and the other on a service winner. Graf stayed close, held for 4-5 and watched Garrison walk to the baseline, take the ball and serve for the match.

The final game took five minutes, and it seemed like an eternity to Garrison. But when it was over, she looked toward the stands in the direction of her husband, Willard Jackson, and coach, Sherwood Stewart.

“One more match, that would be a dream come true,” Garrison said.

But she will play it against Navratilova, who counts eight Wimbledon championships among her 17 Grand Slam singles titles. Navratilova is 27-1 against Garrison.

“Obviously, my record is overwhelming,” Navratilova said.

She was equally overwhelming against Sabatini. Navratilova took a 4-0 lead in the first set and glanced back only briefly.

Instead of staying at the baseline, Sabatini attacked the net regularly and tested Navratilova’s passing shots. It was the right tactic, but it produced the wrong result.

“She’s tough, very tough, but she’s beatable,” Sabatini said of Navratilova.

In defeat, Graf avoided giving Garrison much credit, preferring instead to blame her own play.

“I think now it’s pretty sure Martina’s tournament,” Graf said. “Zina doesn’t have the game to beat Martina.”

Possibly so, but at least there is no difference in clothes between them. Garrison wears tennis clothes from the Martina Navratilova collection, designed by Navratilova’s friend, Judy Nelson.

Garrison and Navratilova wore identical shirts in the semifinals. That made Navratilova start worrying about the final.

“What will we do?” Navratilova said. “We’ll look like twins if we wear the same shirt.”

Garrison has been getting her tennis clothes washed at Navratilova’s rented house near the All England Club because it has a washer and dryer.

“Maybe I’ll hide them,” Navratilova said. “Or shrink them.”

It was left to Garrison and Sabatini to critique Graf, whose near-infallibility on the court now is being severely questioned.

Graf has failed to win her last three tournaments--the German Open, French Open and Wimbledon--for the first time in nearly four years.

“It’s just one match . . . she just lost today and it’s not the end,” Sabatini said.

Garrison said that Graf has lost nothing except a few matches.

“I think it’s too quick to say her dominance has slipped,” Garrison said. “I mean, Steffi is the champion. And, you know, she’ll definitely be coming back every time.”

Just not this time, not today anyway. Gone too is Garrison’s reputation for not winning the big one.

“I think if you believe in yourself, that’s all that matters,” she said.