Mention of Chris Evert's return to form in the 1988 Australian Open
Chris Evert turns back the clock
Seeded third for the championships, Chris Evert was not expected to progress any further than the semi-finals. The American only dropped one set on her way to the last four, where she met her old rival Navratilova. In one last performance for the ages, Evert proved that class is permanent, the Express's headline "Vintage Chris is a corker!" fully alluding to this.
Navratilova was below-par, only making 55% of her first serves, but Evert, executing a number of passing shots and lobs, did not allow the favourite any breathing space. "This was a great victory for me. It meant a lot," said an elated and slightly surprised Evert after her 6-2 7-5 win. She had reached her first grand slam final since 1986 and would now have the daunting task of trying to derail the 18-year-old German juggernaut Steffi Graf. Be afraid, be very afraid.
"I hadn't thought about playing Steffi but I'll have to think about it now, because I haven't found a way to beat her," admitted a refreshingly honest Evert. The final would go as expected, but Evert was not the first, and she definitely wouldn't be the last, who experienced the full force of Graf.
The German's route to the final highlighted just how ruthless she was. In her first four matches she lost just 13 games, before crushing defending champion Hana Mandlikova 6-2 6-2 in the quarter-finals, and her compatriot Claudia Kohde-Kilsch in just 45 minutes in the semi-finals. Graf's second round opponent, Janine Thompson, summed up the general feeling of the field when describing her experience at the hands of the German: "We had played only one game when I asked myself 'What the hell am I going to do?'"
It had been almost two years since Evert had beaten Graf and their last four matches had resulted in straight-sets wins for the 18-year-old starlet. So it wasn't all that surprising when the final – played under the closed roof after rain interrupted play after just three games, for a first grand slam final indoors – started to go in Graf's favour. After the rain came the storm for Evert. Graf won eight games and only lost 10 points in the process. At 5-1 down in the second set, Evert looked to be going the way of everyone else.
Perhaps Graf lost concentration with the finishing line in sight, but Evert deserved great credit in fighting back, winning five games in a row before bravely losing the set and the final on a tie break. The manner in which Graf marched to her Australian Open title, demolishing all before her, showed that this was the start of something special. The start of a golden slam year as it would transpire.