WASHINGTON -- Ever since 1990, when she reached the finals of Wimbledon, Zina Garrison has found herself correcting people offering her congratulations.
"People always said, 'You had a great year last year' ," said Garrison, the No. 12 player in the world. "I would say all I had was a great tournament."
While that Wimbledon final -- where she lost to Martina Navratilova, 6-4, 6-1 -- has so far been the highlight of her career, Garrison admits she hasn't "played very good tennis in the last year or two." She's hoping to get back on track in the Virginia Slims of Washington, where she won her opening match over Cristina Tessi, 6-2, 6-2.
In other singles matches, No. 6 seed Katerina Maleeva of Bulgaria, had little trouble defeating Carrie Cunningham of Livonia, Mich., 6-4, 6-0; unseeded Andrea Strnadova of Czechoslovakia, upset No. 8 seed Nathalie Tauziat of France, 6-4, 7-5; and No. 7 seed Leila Meshki of the Soviet Union won when Linda Ferrando retired due to heat exhaustion after trailing, 6-3, 4-4.
In doubles, Pam Shriver of Lutherville and Jeri Ingram of Silver Spring defeated Regina Rajchrtova and Radka Zrubakova, both of Czechoslovakia, 6-2, 6-3.
Garrison, the tournament's No. 5 seed, had to overcome a little inconsistency in the first set before settling down for the easy win. Garrison had problems getting her first serve in all night (48 percent) and had her service broken twice at the start of the match. But those were the only games Garrison lost in the first set.
"It means a lot to get that first service in," Garrison said. "I've been working on it a lot the last week and a half."
In breezing through the second set, Garrison had her serve going up and out, and was accurate on some of her finesse shots. The entire match, which lasted 55 minutes, left her pleased.
"Today I hit some shots I haven't seen in a year and a half," Garrison said. "I'm pretty excited about that."
Garrison is hoping she'll be able to be excited by week's end, when the finals are played in a tournament she didn't plan to play in. That was before she was upset last week by Jo Durie in the second round of the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles, 6-3, 6-7 (7-3), 7-5. By Thursday, she was entered in the Washington tournament as a wild card.
"I thought I needed more matches [before the U.S. Open]," Garrison said. "I needed to play as much as I could and get in pressure situations."
Garrison is hoping that recent work with her old coach, Willis Thomas, will also help. Before the two temporarily parted ways, Thomas had helped Garrison reach the ranking of No. 4 in the world in 1989.
"I started working with [Thomas] in San Diego three weeks ago, and certain shots I'm starting to feel again," Garrison said. "He designed the game that helped me be the No. 4 player. I basically didn't know what had taken me there. I have to learn it all over again."
While Garrison has not set any goals for this tournament, or at the U.S. Open next week, she has one goal for the near future.
"I want to play one consistent year all the way through," Garrison said. "Next year I want to be ready. I want to play tennis like I know I can, and not let it frustrate me."
In the top match tonight, No. 2 seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario will play Rajchrtova at 7 p.m. At 2 p.m., No. 3 Mary Joe Fernandez will play Mariaan De Swardt, followed by a match between Shriver and Elna Reinach.