1984 : Virginia Slims Of California - Oakland
VIRGINIA SLIMS OF CALIFORNIA
by Michael Kay, IWT vol8 N°1- January 20, 1984
OAKLAND, Ca - Just all records are made to be broken, so do all streaks come to an end - somme more painfully than others.
Oakland was the site where the dream would take shape. On the crest of the phenomenal winning streak, Martina Navratilova entered the Virginia Slims of California with justifiable confidence. She saw no obstacles in her quest for breaking Evert-Lloyd's consecutive match winning streak. After that tournament win in Oakland, Martina would need only 2 victories to break the record. But fate played a trick on her in Oakland, city of upsets. With 54 match wins under her belt, Navratilova's streak cruelly fell just two matches short of tying the record when she met a mentally tougher foe in the final - and it was not Evert-Lloyd.
The crusher of hopes was eighth-seeded Hana Mandlikova who, in the midst of a Two-tournament hot streak, was not to be stopped, not even by the N°1 player in the world. It was unfortunate for Martina and a bit ironic, perhaps, that the person to stop the streak was a player not usually lauded for mental toughness and consistency. Martina may wonder for months to come why Hana chose the week of January 9 to produce her best tennis in two years.
Not since the spring of 1981 when she swiped the French Open crown from Chris Evert Lloyd has Mandlikova shown such brilliance. The awesome shotmaking that fans have come to expect were all present in Oakland, but something long forgotten made a reappearance - consistency. Ome could see the change on her face. She wanted to win!
After capturing the Slims of Washington, Hana might have had trouble motivating herself for the next week's work. Against big-serving Alicia Moulton, there were some close points, but Hana remained in control. She had passed her first test in straight sets.
A better test came in the next round against Bonnie Gadusek. With as much enthusiasm and fighting spirit as anyone on the circuit, Gadusek pushed and pushed, trying to crack Mandlikova's heretofore fragile concentration. At one point, it almost worked. After the first set wipe-out 6-1, Hana led in the second set tiebreaker, 6-3. She couldn't clinch the match. A few Mandlikova errors and some courageous play from Bonnie leveled the points and then the set went to Gadusek. Undaunted, Hana resumed control with a fairly easy 6-2 final set.
Gadusek, it should be noted, changed her tactics several times throughout the match, displaying an all-court ability that should silence critics who have tagged her "another one of those baseliners." Bonnie served-and-volleyed on several points, successfully used dropshots and even aced Mandlikova a couple of times.
The quarterfinal encounter between Hana and Andrea Jaeger was reminiscent of their early clashes. Jaeger used to lose because her technique was too immature to counter Mandlikova's weapons. Lately, though, her losses are due more to immaturity of attitude than of technique or strategy. Hana has won the last three matches they've played against each other, including the Oakland pairing . Although the set scores were close, 7-6(7-5), 6-4, Andrea did not look like a winner. The usual irritation, bad line calls, unforced errors and people in the stands all got to her. While Mandlikova was not an exact model of composure either, she at least tended closely to the business of winning.
Pam Shriver should have given Hana a tougher match. Pam breezed through to the semifinals without coming close to losing a set. Mandlikova was at her passing-shot best, however, and Shriver looked like the skeleton of an agressive champion. At one point Pam was so exasperate, she went over to the vendor at courtside and bought some beer from him. (Actually, a fan paid for the beer, but Pam did drink a sip or two.) It was an ulikely out come for the third seed playing the eighth seed.
Just prior to the final, one could only hope that Mandlikova would not give up easily. This attitude was prevalent, based on observations of Martina's crushing performances. Martina swept through her four matches with the loss of only 11 games. There were no signs of haunts from the past when she met Kathy Horvath in the first round. Points were over almost as quickly as it took Horvath to wind up on her two-handed backhand.
Pam Casale gave Martina her toughest match. Casale's unorthodox, off-speed backhand resulted in many passing shots that Navratilova simply did not expect. for the most part, though, the champion proved too quick and relentless for the New Jersey scrapper. That didn't prevent Pam from cheering and screaming for herself each time she won a critical point.
Even Zina Garrison played her best against Navratilova, but there was no contest. Martina ate up Zina's hard-hit shots and returned them with twice her pace.
Helena Sukova lent extra-credence to Czech consistency by reaching the last four for the second week in a row. In the semifinal match with Navrtatilova, helena grabbed a 2-0 lead but then faded without explanation. Maybe the thought of really giving Martina a battle must have shaken her.
It would have been interisting to find out how odd-makers in Las Vegas would have set Hana's chances against Martina. Navratilova won the last nine matches they played, but in 1983, their matches were close. Particularly in the Tournament of champions (Orlando) last April, Mandlikova had chances to win. In the third set, serving 5-4, Hana was broken and lost the next two games. Few watching the match on January 15 would have guessed that Hana would wind up in the very same position of serving for the match, 5-4 in the third set.
The key to Mandlikova's victory was her persistence in keeping up with Martina's level of play. Hana broke Martina's serve in the opening game, but then was immediately broken herself. Until 6-all, there was a see-saw battle. Mandlikova even served for the set at 5-4, but Navratilova surged to break again.
Serving at 5-6, Hana hit one of the shots that proved to be her most useful weapon during the match, a running forehand down the line. That shot got her into the tiebreaker and clinched the first set for her. But it was not easy. She was down three points to six. When you're that far in a hole against Martina, you haven't a prayer. But somehow Mandlikova crept out of the hole, grabbing five consecutive points, to win the tiebreaker.
The second set was a let-down for Hana, as she missed a few more returns and her first serve went awry. However, she did manage to stir up some drama while she was serving at 0-2. A first serve was called out by the linesman, but WTA Referee Lee Jackson (who was umpiring the match) overruled and called it good. Martina thought the ball out. Rather than accept the call in her favor, Hana spoke up and admitted that she thought that her own serve was out. Jackson had no choice but to let the fault call stand. Mandlikova lost the point but eventually won the game. After the match, when questioned about the incident, Hana relied, "I saw it out. Why should I cheat?"
Linecall controversy reappeared at a more crucial time, with Martina serving at 4-4 in the third set. Navratilova hit a backhand passing shot down the line, which Hana did not return. There was no linesman call. Again, Lee Jackson overruled, calling the ball out. Martina complained, thinking the ball was well inside the court. But the call stood. Shortly thereafter, Navratilova was broken, and Hana served for the match.
Did this disruption cost Martina the match? She revealed her feelings in the post-match interview : "Usually you don't overrule when it's that close that late in the match. She (Lee Jackson) did, and she saw it out. It's pointless, because I still had my chance to win the game. It didn't lose the match for me. I certainly had my chances prior to that"
Serving. 5-4 for the match. The last time Hana was in this position, she played a conservative game and lost. She let Martina come to the net and she tried to pass. This time she vowed she'd do it differently. It worked. With exceptional execution, she served wide to Navratilova's backhand. Hana did rush the net, but didn't have to volley each time, for Martina couldn't effectively return the serve. Finally, the last point was won with a backhand volley winner.
Hana threw up her hands in victory as if she had won a Grand Slam event. There were plenty of reasons for exaltation : she had just proven that Martina was beatable and she now found herself in the long-forgotten position of winning two consecutives tournaments. Perhaps she was on the verge of living up to the potential that so many people have envisioned for her since 1979.
If there was any motive for the change in Mandlikova, she herself summed it up best : "I was fighting with myself all the time. I was sometimes blaming somebody else for my losses, like my coach or my trainer. After a while you realize it's not them who is losing; it's me! And I'm hurting myself and nobody else... The really important point in my career was right after Wimbledon last year when I lost to a South African Girl (Jennifer Mundel). I said 'Come on, if you want your true potential, you have to go for it.'"
Martina, on the other hand, was predictably upset. Losing right after she had broken Chris's streak might have been easier to handle, but comming three short was almost unbearable.
Speaking with frankness but containment, she declared, "I'm just trying to get used to the feeling of losing : it's been a while. When you lose every week, you can shrug it off and go on and it doesn't bother you, but when you don't lose for a while, it really hits you."
For such a disappointig day's work, it was generous of Navratilova to give credit to Hana's performance. She commented, "She beat me playing the same way I play... I came down fighting. She won the match; I didn't lose it."
Martina continued to assess her situation in the post-match press conference : "It feels rotten." Referring to the future, she claimed, "It gets me into higher gear. There's nothing that motivates me more than losing. I'll be ready to go next time I play, start another streak. That's what I said at the French. So here I am... I'll count at one next time."
As a prideful champion would do, Navratilova won the doubles crown with Shriver. they easily took the crown over unseeded Alycia Moulton and Rosie Casals.
With the exception of Turnbull and Hanika losing in the first round, the drama surrounding the Virginia Slims of Oakland proved to be rather routine compared to the sweep that Mandlikova pulled off. Defeating the top-3 seeds in any tournament is quite feet. And, if the top seed is on a 54-match winning streak, the accomplishment deserves rebounding recognition.
If such a strange twist of fate were to happen anywhere. Oakland provided the apt setting. In 1981, Martina lost in the first round there to Claudia Kohde; the next year, Chris Evert-Lloyd lost to Andrea Jaeger for the first time; 1983 saw Tracy Austin beaten at her own game by Andrea Temesvari. Just wait until next year!...