Slims Event Final Matches Old Foes : Tennis: Grossman defeats Halard, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, and Frazier beats Appelmans, 6-2, 6-4, at Manhattan Beach.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Past winners of the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles have included some of the biggest names in women's tennis--Navratilova, Seles, Graf, Evert.

Today, the 23-year-old event is offering an all-Midwestern final featuring Ann Grossman of Grove City, Ohio, and Amy Frazier of Rochester Hills, Mich.

Don't ask, "Who?" too loudly.

"This is the new age," Grossman said Saturday after defeating the highest-ranked player left in the semifinals, No. 18 Julie Halard of France, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1. "That is what everyone wants, right?"

Well, not exactly.

But this is what everyone gets after the name players either dropped out beforehand or, as was the case with Conchita Martinez, Martina Navratilova and Jana Novotna, were upset during the week.

"It's the youngsters now," said Sabine Appelmans of Belgium, who lost to Frazier, 6-2, 6-4, in the other semifinal before 5,484 at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach.

By advancing to the championship match, Frazier joined her longtime tennis pal. She and Grossman have been friends since they were 9-year-old juniors. Their professional careers have taken similar paths to obscurity, overshadowed by the tour's stars.

The first time Frazier saw her rival, Grossman was playing one of her friends from Michigan in a tournament at Columbus, Ohio.

"She was the size of the net and hit the ball so hard," Frazier recalled.

Grossman still whacks away. And, as it turns out, she can hit the broadside of a barn. As a child, she practiced hitting inside a barn on her parent's farm.

"The cows were on one side and the pigs were in the back," she said.

Frazier visited her childhood friend on the farm, and has traveled the women's tour with her. But she has yet to defeat her as a pro. Grossman has won two tough three-setters, including the quarterfinals of the 1992 Evert Cup at Indian Wells.

But if she continues her roll, Frazier, 21, could change that. No. 26 Frazier has yet to drop a set in the week-long tournament. She has overcome a weak serve by utilizing her powerful strokes to the utmost.

"She's hitting the ball so hard," Appelmans said. "The balls are so fast, so deep. She can beat anybody when she's playing like that."

Frazier's poise also has been a factor. Even when dropping a tough game, she keeps pounding the ball. In the second set, she and Appelmans played 28 points in the third game before Frazier lost.

Then, No. 20 Appelmans broke Frazier by powering a forehand down the line. But Frazier stayed calm. She held her next serve, saved two break points in the eighth game and broke back in the ninth.

Then a strong service game sent Appelmans out without much fight.

Despite her outstanding play, Frazier, once a member of TeamTennis' Newport Dukes, has downplayed the performance.

No. 46 Grossman, on the other hand, could not be happier.

Grossman, 23, reached the final by playing four consecutive three-set matches, including a sweltering semifinal in which she grew stronger the longer she ran around the court.

In the third set, Grossman dominated Halard, who was suffering from stomach problems. By then, Halard's hard-hitting game had melted under the broiling sun. Her eyes were glassy, her strokes punchless.

"At 3-0, I knew I had her," Grossman said.

So did everyone watching.

"When you don't have any more legs, it's difficult to go for it," Halard said. "She made me run and that was it."

Grossman was especially satisfied with her ability to rebound after losing the first set four days in a row.

About Saturday's slow start, Grossman said: "I came out playing pretty dumb. The first set I was just miserable. I was so tired. I said, 'Jeez, can you make it through?' "

She could, and she did.

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