I agree completely that Natasha had lost the match before even stepping on the court. It was almost like she didn't even want to be there or play the match. Her interview with Bud was so telling, and is even more telling when you compare it to Steffi's challenger's answer the following year...Arantxa Sanchez was asked the same thing before the 89 final, and most were expecting to hear a similar answer to Zvereva's or at best hear her saying something about how Steffi is good and it will be tough but she'll try her hardest. Instead she said somehting to the effect of "I come to play Steffi, not pray to her". Zvereva did not believe she belonged or could even stand a chance against the Steffis, the Chrissies, the Martinas of the world. She did not even believe herself good enough to be a grandslam finalist despite the fact that that was where she was.
To me it is like she played with the fear of getting put back in to that position for most of her career. I can remember at times watching her in matches where she seemingly stopped playing almost as if she didn't want to advance to the next round. I believe that it was a coping mechanism for her to avoid feeling overwhelming pressure.
Her game was fun, especially on the doubles court...and her spunky attitude and personality certainly added to the enjoyment of watching Natasha. She definitely underachieved in terms of her physical talent, but mentality is a huge part of tennis too, and Natasha simply did not have it on the singles court.
Correct, Natasha lost the '88 French Final against Steffi before she ever picked up her racquet. However, in all fairness, Steffi was on a roll back then, and instilled a certain "fear factor" in most of her opponents. Having watched that match, it appeared to me Natalia was scared to death of playing Steffi, and the result proved it.
As you point out, Steffi's opponent the following year in the French final was a totally different breed. Arantxa may have respected Steffi, but she certainly didn't fear her.
Natalia missed a golden opportunity at '98 Wimbledon, falling to Natalie Tauziat, after having beaten both Monica and Steffi. If Jana had to deal with Natasha in the Final, it's quite possible Jana would have tightened up. Then we would have been referring to Natasha as a one-slam wonder, instead of Jana.
In the end, Natasha will be remembered as a talented underachiever, who belongs to the group of Sabatini, Jana, Conchita, and maybe Mary Pierce. Steffi, Monica, and Arantxa were miles ahead of Jana, Sabatini, and Natasha in the mental part of the game, and have the hardware to back it up.