Ultimately, it all comes down to this: when Chrissie won Wimbledon in 1976, beat Evonne 8-6 in the third, she went back to her hotel room and soon, very soon, minutes later, all the joy was drained. She slumped there, hurt and melancholy, because she had no one she loved to take her to the Wimbledon ball. "All I kept thinking," she says, "was that I'd achieved everything, but it meant nothing because I had no one to share it with."
There is an old French expression that goes, "An actress is more than a woman, but an actor is less than a man." Conversely, even now in the all-American world of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a male is considered more of a man if he's an athlete, but a woman athlete is perceived to be less of a female. The really extraordinary accomplishment of Christine Marie Evert Lloyd is that she has risen to such heights in the face of the self-consciousness engendered by that thinking. Would that she had actually trusted in herself! Not until last year, after almost a decade of playing at or very near the top of her sport, did she ever allow herself to be tested "as far as my guts are concerned," did she ever dare play for Chris and not for some man she loved. "That was the first time I ever reached down inside of me—me," she says.
Now, at last, she's safely settled: Mrs. Lloyd, not only an old married woman but married to the most attractive of men as well, one so fair that schoolgirls flock after him, and his male friends, in grudging admiration, call him Flossie for his golden locks. Why, no man's centerfold could be so impressive, no man's.
Evert Lloyd is 26 years old, complete, in the fullness of life. Already she has won five U.S. Opens, four French championships, two Wimbledons, 104 tournaments all told. Once she won 56 matches in a row and 125 straight on clay. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Sportswoman of the Year in 1976. Four times Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. And now she's also finally pleased with herself. She feels like a million dollars. And she's down to 115 pounds from a high of 135 in 1978. She looks like a million dollars. Why, just imagine what the lady could do if she could only volley.
April 26, 1981
In women's tennis, as much as in any sport, a player's temperament is revealed by her style of play. Men, except perhaps on clay, are expected to attack, but so many women aren't strong enough to rule from the net that they all pretty much have the license to choose a style that best fits their personality. Billie Jean King is the classic example, ever on the move, forward, on the court as well as in life. The whimsical Evonne Goolagong goes with the wind, trying whatever strikes her fancy. Chris stays back, playing it safe.
Get the ball back. So she was instructed by her father, Jimmy Evert, and so she continues to do. It's a maddening style of play, frustrating for the opponent, tedious for the spectator. Most practitioners of the baseline game play it out of fear and lack of talent. Consider this observation from the 1968 memoirs of Al Laney, one of two writers in the tennis Hall of Fame:
"They were preceded by two girls whose names have long since escaped me, but whose performance I have seen repeated over and over these many years on courts fast and slow, grass, clay and cement, in many countries. They played an interminable match, and as I watched I learned for the first time that tennis can be boring. There was something prophetic in this, for it was to be my lot for many years to watch and write about this sort of thing, the purposeless hitting up and down the court by two girls, neither able to win when the chance comes, both forced to go on and on until one or the other finally loses."
The operative word here is purposeless; what distinguishes Evert Lloyd from the bulk of her breed is that she has always gotten the ball back, with both a scheme and success in mind. Yet it takes a somewhat sophisticated eye to appreciate this, and even then it doesn't necessarily follow that the witness will be enthralled. Evert Lloyd understands her lyrical failing. Still, she says, "I think people should have acknowledged more of my attributes—my strength, my determination, my ability to react to pressure."
And, perhaps above all, her facility for sticking with it. After 20 years of tennis, she has had few lapses from her pattern of play. Other players notice that Tracy Austin, who is programmed for the same waiting game, has already begun to grow impatient with it, and she's only 18. "What Chris has managed is quite incredible," says Ted Tinling, the tennis fashion designer and majordomo of the women's tour. "A woman champion is hard-pressed to survive more than six years. They start so young and then suddenly they realize that to lose a set isn't world news, so they begin to think about it out there. I remember watching Helen Wills in some obscure quarterfinal. She got into a long rally, and it was so apparent. I just sighed to myself, 'I'm sorry, Helen, it's all done now. You're over the hill.' And this was so."
Evert Lloyd has endured at the baseline for two reasons. One is technical: she plays best there. To be fair, this isn't to say that sameness constitutes stagnation. She moves with more facility now, has an improved overhead and serve (how proud she is of that) and plays more intelligently and offensively. The other reason is psychological: she's incapable of rushing the net.
Oh, this doesn't mean that never ever will Evert Lloyd venture forward on some fast surface. Other players, after all, force her up with drop shots, and she has learned to volley quite well in practice. "Look at her, coming in there," says her husband, John. "See? Not bad. But she just has no instincts for it, and she's literally scared to do that in matches. Genuinely frightened."
A couple of years ago, before Evert Lloyd's opening match at Wimbledon, against some hopelessly outclassed opponent, a few players offered to give her $100 if she would serve-and-volley the first point. One point. She really wanted to do it—she laughs at this inhibition—but she simply couldn't. But why? One lousy point. "I thought, 'Suppose I get my feet all tangled up and fall on my face,' " the world's best woman player says, quite earnestly.
She even has a recurring nightmare: she is on Wimbledon Centre Court and comes in to hit an easy volley. She misses it altogether, and the fans—leering, hideous Diane Arbus faces—hoot and laugh at her. "I guess that's what happens to you when you spend the first 12 years working on your ground strokes," she says with a shrug.
But it's not only that the baseline has been her tactical theater of operations. Oh, no, it's so much more than that. Foremost, perhaps, the baseline has been a refuge. Back there she's insulated; it's only the ball and her. She wasn't soiling her femininity playing some sport. Instead, as in all the movie and fashion magazines she devoured, she could be her own actress in some drama, a model on a runway. "I never felt at all like an athlete," she says. "I was just someone who played tennis matches. I still thought of women athletes as freaks, and I used to hate myself, thinking I must not be a whole woman. The nail polish, the ruffles on my bloomers, the hair ribbons, not wearing socks—all of that was very important to me, to compensate. I would not be the stereotyped jock. I remember saying once that I would never fall down for a point, and Rosie Casals and some of the others laughed at me. I just didn't know where I fit in at all."
Her friend Ana Leaird, a Women's Tennis Association official who has known Evert Lloyd since they both attended St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, remembers trying to compliment her once. "I said, 'Oh, Chris, you're moving so well; you're building up your muscles nicely.'
"And she screamed back at me, 'No, no, Ana, don't tell me that!' "
What rare defeats Evert Lloyd suffered didn't upset her, but once, after a press conference, she dissolved into tears because no one had noticed that, she had lost five pounds. At 17, her first complaint about fame—facetious, but revealing—was, "Well, it would be nice if some writer would get around to describing me as sexy." The next year, she declared outright, "I don't ever want to be the breadwinner of my family. Too long a tennis career can ruin a girl and harden her."
Now she says, "I never felt that much emotion out there. I had no ambition. My father was the incentive." She would rush to call him after every match, and all decisions were deferred to him. Only in the last few months has she taken on a professional business manager.
And so. Evert Lloyd stayed back, returning balls. Too close to the net would be too personal, too involved with the jock on the other side of the court. She was only playing against herself, literally going through the motions her father had taught her so well. That she mastered these mechanics and became one of the greatest champions of all time was almost incidental. Not till she quit the sport in despair last year, came back three months later and then played with so much guts against Austin at the U.S. Open, did she ever really beat anybody.
"Are you fearless enough to deal with Tracy?" Neil Amdur, who is collaborating with Evert Lloyd on her forthcoming autobiography, asked her at the beginning of the Open. She winced—"It was a funny word, fearless, but he hit it right on the head"—and lied that she surely was. But it wasn't until 10 days later, just before meeting Austin in the semis, that, she says, "I knew I had the guts to stay out there with her and beat her. I told John, 'Yes, now I think I can win.' You know, that's the only time I ever said that."
"Yes. Now I really love the image that a woman athlete has. Why, I've been falling down and sweating for a couple years now." And she laughs, her eyes getting lost, mere slits in a pretty face that always swells with rosiness in either humor or happiness.
Jimmy Evert has taught all his five children to play his game. There are two sons: Drew, 27, now the teaching pro at the resort on Amelia Island, Fla. that Chrissie and John represent as touring pros, and John, 20, who plays on the tennis team at Vanderbilt. Jeanne, 23, the middle daughter, is a former national 12-and 14-and-under champion who was good enough to be a fringe player on the pro tour between 1973 and 1978. Clare, 13, is one of the best players in the country for her age. She also happens to be a bosom buddy of Chris' young rival, Andrea Jaeger. When Chris watches her little sister practice, Clare always wants to volley. "Come on, Daddy," she screams. "Just because I'm 13 and I can do it, and she still can't do it at 26!"
Jimmy had all the shots himself, too. He was an agile player, a Bobby Riggs type, good enough to reach the final 16 at Forest Hills in 1942; Ted Schroeder, the eventual champion, beat him in four long sets. Jimmy is a Notre Dame man, and after the war he came down to Fort Lauderdale and became pro at Holiday Park, the municipally owned tennis center. Fort Lauderdale was a jerkwater resort then, with maybe 30,000 residents and scads of beer-swilling college kids who descended on the beaches every spring. According to the latest census, Lauderdale has become the center of a metropolitan area of more than a million people, but Jimmy is still teaching at Holiday Park, still going home for lunch to the same house in which Chrissie grew up.
He never pushed his kids in practice. He didn't replay Schroeder through them. Indeed, had he been that way, "I would've rebelled," Chris says. Remember, she was dubious about this whole business of distaff perspiration to start with. "But I always did have a great sense of competition," she says, and she discovered that doing well on the courts meant glamour in the form of tournaments, travel, hotels and other tourist exotica.
Chris' life away from the courts was kept in balance by her mother, Colette, who remained more interested in whether her daughter's room was neat than in what trophies might adorn it. Colette traveled with Chrissie during her daughter's first few years as a pro. A gracious, open woman, she was, in many respects, accepted by the other players before the reserved Chris was.
But Chris was perfectly happy. "I'm just not a person to take risks. Never have been," she says. "I look back and see that I was too cautious in so many things I did in my life." She was an ideal daughter, never mischievous and, naturally, an A student at Aquinas. She would come home from some big-deal tournament and go out on a prom date. She shared a bedroom with Jeanne, and the two sisters would speak their own brand of pig Latin, inserting the letters "IV" before vowels. It was divandy, and it would go on like this forever, until Chris met a sun-kissed Prince Charming, which she surely would. Indeed, at 17 she was much more ready to fall madly in love with a nice 19-year-old Midwestern boy from a good Catholic family than to hang around locker rooms and hotel lobbies with career women 10 years her senior.
Chrissie met Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1972. She was already the baby doll of tennis, and although he was still largely unknown, they instantly discovered how similar their backgrounds and needs were. While their respective mothers went berserk back in their hotel rooms, Chrissie and Jimbo stayed up till four that first night, walking the London streets, baring their souls to each other. Whatever else has happened to them since, that moment still survives in some measure. "First love..." she says, trailing off, smiling, nothing more.
The romance was as idyllic and rocky as any first love, magnified all the more because it was played out in the public eye. They both won Wimbledon in the summer of '74 and would marry in the fall. It would have been so easy had Chrissie simply cooled to Jimbo. But it was much more complicated than that. For the first time, something in her life didn't groove. "I started to have doubts about a permanent commitment," she says, "but I never had any doubts about Jimmy." Their relationship began developing strains soon after Wimbledon, and in October the wedding was called off.
Says Billie Jean King, "The way Chris loved Jimmy Connors tells you more about her than a lot of things. There's all that American Pie stuff you hear. And it is very important for her to live up to everyone's expectations. So a lot of people couldn't understand how she could love a guy like Jimmy. But he's a perfectionist, and that's why she adored him. She admires that in people. That's Chris, above all else."
Whatever, Evert Lloyd now says, "I was obsessed, totally consumed by the relationship. Afterward, I felt I had to start all over again to learn who I was. Then I was so alone and so lonely...and hurt." She grimaces and makes a clenched fist recalling Jimmy. One day recently at Chris' parents' house, she went through the mail and deadpanned to John, "Here, for you." It was a letter for Connors, care of her. They come regularly.
With the departure of Connors from her life began what will surely come to be considered the heart of her career. In this interregnum, when she was at her personal darkest, Evert Lloyd achieved her greatest feats, winning 94% of her matches and 72% of her tournaments. She was safe again, on the baseline.
During these years, there were some ballyhooed romances with the likes of Burt Reynolds and a President's son, Jack Ford, as Chris' schoolgirl dreams of finding a shining knight behind the picket fence next door were fading. She was, in effect, pricing herself out of that neighborhood. While heaven knows we read enough in the women's magazines about the castration anxieties that most men suffer when confronted with a successful female, that syndrome is all the more pronounced where a pretty woman athlete is concerned. Bad enough that the lady is famous and successful, but a heroine and better coordinated to boot—that's just too much. "I found that most men couldn't handle it, what I am," Evert Lloyd says, "and that only made me more uncomfortable."
It's revealing that, when Evert Lloyd's female friends speak of John, they invariably salute him foremost for his ability to subordinate himself without fretting that his masculinity is being undercut. "John even likes being in a supportive role," says King, "and that's important because Chris loves being No. 1. She loves being a superstar. Maybe she won't admit that to the world, but we've talked about it."
As soft and as pink as Evert Lloyd is, there's that hard blue vein that runs through her character. She shouldn't be surprised that the public discerned this, no matter how much she gussied herself up in ribbons and ruffles. The Ice Lolly is how the British first dubbed her—their term for Popsicle—and that was the most apt nickname, no matter what variations on the theme followed.
You see, the truth is that what was visible was accurate. There never was a tip of the iceberg with Chris Evert on the court; she won precisely because she was the underside of the iceberg, colder and harder than anyone suspected. Everything was poured into the game—but more out of addiction than affection, and that showed, too. "I wouldn't even call a friend on the day of a match," she says. "I'd be scared of disrupting my concentration. I couldn't allow any competition with tennis." She holds up her forefinger—No. 1—and continues, "Tennis was the foundation and security in my life, and I didn't dare risk losing it."
This attitude fed on itself. The more she dedicated herself to the sport, the more she used her success on the court as a gift to the people she loved, the harder it became for her to believe that any of the rest of her could be of value to them. She feared what the public might imagine about her—the mannish jock—and she couldn't understand that because fans didn't cotton to her repetitious kind of play didn't mean they despised her.
Yet it's also true that Evert Lloyd, as champion, never engendered the devotion that King attracted. Chrissie could never dare to abandon, symbolically, the sanctuary of the baseline and risk evoking that visceral kind of love (or hate) that was King's. But the fact is that Chris was very popular as a ponytailed prodigy, and this affection is returning as she's becoming more vulnerable as an older player. Especially with men she wasn't and isn't so threatening as a child or a grand dame (in tennis years) as she was at the peak of her athletic life, when she exhibited that kind of coolness and steadfastness that males do not like to think reside in the fairer sex. And that she was a sweet Catholic Sunbelt all-American girl, packaged in frills, only frightened them all the more. It wasn't so much that they couldn't imagine the Ice Lolly sweating; they couldn't imagine her menstruating.
Yet even as Evert Lloyd piled up victories, she found more acceptance among her colleagues. It was the other players who first let the tennis world know that the kid was O.K., that she had an exceptional sense of humor and that she really wasn't perfect. You should hear what naughty words can tumble from Miss American Pie's mouth after a bad call. In 1975 Evert Lloyd succeeded King as the elected president of the WTA, and the jealousy and suspicion gave way to respect and fondness.
That helped, but the life of a traveling female athlete is much more difficult than the merely inconvenient one that male athletes must endure on the road. This is the first era in which large numbers of working women travel, and in an unusual profession like sports, where they journey in bunches, there's a natural tendency to circle the wagons. "It becomes like a family," says Casals. "No matter how well people may know you back home, they can't imagine what it's really like for you on the road, and so we tend to relate more and more to each other." Whether you're the No. 1 or the No. 100 player, establishing any sort of lasting friendships outside the traveling group is difficult, and in this weary vacuum of loneliness, sexual predators—of both genders—are on the prowl. There are many cases of female athletes who marry quickly, almost in desperation, after a brief time on the circuit. Of course, rarely do these marriages last, for the husband was chosen not so much to be a man as a talisman.
There are a few marriages between tennis players, but seldom do the tours of the opposite sexes cross, much less cross-pollinate. Chrissie and John had never so much as nodded to each other before she, a designing woman, contrived an introduction in the Tea Room at Wimbledon during the 1978 tournament. "Would you like to come over and say hello to Chris Evert?" asked the go-between. "Whatever for?" replied a baffled Lloyd.
They scheduled their first date alone for the evening of the day of the ladies' finals. That afternoon Chris lost to Martina Navratilova. "She just threw it away," John says. "Up 4-2 in the third. I was so confused. It seemed that she didn't really care if she won." He assumed that when he approached her afterward she would be so downcast that she wouldn't want to go out. "Of course I do," she said. "Why not?"
They were married the following April 17 in Fort Lauderdale. The bride wore an original Tinling gown of white satin, with 30 yards of Chantilly lace and 2,000 seed pearls. The groom, No. 25 in the world when he asked for her hand, had not won a match in seven months. He's now 331st on the computer. As you know, women go all to pieces when they fall in love.
The Lloyds are at a resort west of Tampa where John is attempting to qualify for a tournament. The resort has the word "Racquet" in the title to make it sound fancy. It's a brisk March morning, and the paying tourists are moaning. The Lloyds have had a hard time finding a place to stay, finally ending up in an elderly folks' health-food hostel. They sneak out to subsist on cheese Whoppers and pancakes.
John hangs out by the clubhouse with a bunch of other faceless guys in tennis sweats. He looks vaguely familiar to an alpacaed golfer passing by. "Who's that one—the good-looking guy?"
"You know, Chris Evert's husband."
"Oh yeah." He examines John more closely. "She got a 10, didn't she?"
Chris is in the parking lot, out of the way, talking to another player's wife. She's just a wife this morning. Next to them some other tennis gypsy's wife nurses a baby as she waits for her husband to come back from the clubhouse. But this isn't a real tournament. It's just the qualifying for a tournament. Four spots in a draw of 32 have been left vacant, and about 70 hopefuls, including Chris Evert Lloyd's husband, are here at the Racquet place, praying to make the qualifying field of 48. If John gets in—which he does on this occasion—and then wins three rounds, he'll be one of four admitted to the first round of the regular tournament, there to meet a fresh player who ranks higher than he. This is the minefield that John must face week after week if he's to claw his way back.
Only 2½ years ago he stood 25th in the world. He was good enough to have beaten Bjorn Borg on red clay. He was one of Britain's two best players; in 1978 he helped lead his country to the Davis Cup final for the first time in 40 years. Now he says, "I can't get any worse without breaking my arm."
"But John's really eager," Chris says, trying to put the best face on the situation. "I haven't seen this attitude since we were married. Maybe he feels more secure about us now. He knows he can really get involved with tennis and it won't affect our marriage."
Although John fought his way through qualifying and made it to the quarters of the Jack Kramer Open last week, nobody else in tennis holds much hope for his comeback. By his own admission, he was never hungry and always easily distracted. "I can be self-destructive," he says. "Always before, I could drift along, and if I had a bad patch, I could eventually find my way back to my level. But it's tough when you get down in the 300s, and you're in the spotlight, too, and once you were 25th in the world, and you're married to the best player in the world...."
And you have to qualify.
"And you have to qualify."
That afternoon Chris watches John play Jim Delaney in his first qualifying match. He tries not to look over to where the few spectators are watching her watch him play. He feels it. "She wants me to do well more than she does herself," he says.
Chris hunches against a cold wind. "I'm devastated when he loses," she says. "I'd much rather play than watch. I know how much worse it is for him because of me. When I lose, I always feel that I've let down the people who love me. I always wanted to play well for others. I know how happy it makes them, because it makes me so happy when someone I love wins."
But it's Chrissie's curse that only she wins. The experience with her husband somewhat duplicates what she went through with her sister. Jeanne got as high as nine in the country in 1974, but the better she became, the more glare, the more comparisons there were. The other Evert. How would you like to be called the other anything? Soon both Jeanne's game and her relationship with her sister deteriorated, and even now, years after Jeanne has left tennis and made her own happy home, she says she still has problems talking about Chris and what they went through.
"The strains were probably my fault," Jeanne says. "But she was just always so confident. She was so tough. No, not tough. That's not right. She's such a sensitive person...." There is a sudden silence, and Jeanne starts to sob.
Why are you crying, Jeanne?
"Because Chris is so wonderful. That's all." Jeanne's husband, a Canadian accountant named Brahm Dubin, has had a kidney transplant, and a few days earlier Chris and John had journeyed to Montreal, donating their services for an exhibition that made $30,000 for the Kidney Foundation. "She was always there when I needed her," Jeanne says. "She was always so generous and loyal. But it was just that she was so...so assured on the court. And, finally, that was too much for me."
Jeanne started eating compulsively, putting on too much weight. "I think that must have been my fault," Chris told a friend not long ago. Now she says, "I've never felt guilty about Jeanne. No, not about John, either. I don't dwell on the fact that I'm No. 1. But I do know my brothers and sisters have had it hard at times because of me, and I've felt sad about that."
Jeanne has lost most of that extra weight, and she and her husband have recently moved to the Fort Lauderdale area. "I left as a tennis player. I needed to be away," she says. "But now I'm more of a person. I'm coming back as a wife. I'll be a mother. Chris and I are much closer again, but still, it's going to take a while longer."
Chris says, "Yeah, I think it's all O.K. with Jeanne now." She pauses, and smiles. "We're both married now." As you can see, that takes care of a lot of things in the Evert family.
And it's O.K. with John for the same reason. He's a secure young man, without guile. Of course, he and the missus do worry occasionally about his tennis. "I don't know what I'll do when I'm finished playing," Chris says, "and that frustrates me because I'm not trained for anything else. But then, I've never been a planner. I'm a dreamer. John and I talk more about what he will do. I mean, what if he doesn't get it back? Because for a man to do nothing—that's tragic."
At the Racquet place, John takes the first set from Delaney 6-1. He's really rolling, though he keeps giving away close calls. "Damn," Chris says with a laugh, "I just can't Americanize him." One spectator gives her a towel to wrap around her shoulders for warmth. Another lends her his jacket and, at an odd-game break, asks her to pose for a snapshot with him. There is no such thing as a free jacket.
John falters a bit, but he holds on to win the second set and the match. He's not pleased with the way he's played, though. He can't find any rhythm; he can't get back into the habit of winning. The following day, in his second qualifying match, he's up 4-2 on Jaime Fillol in the opening set, but then folds, losing 6-4, 6-4. "He just handed that over," Chris says. "Just surrendered—mentally, I mean. When you've been No. 25, it's so hard."
But understood by the Lloyds, if never quite said by them, is that there's no tragedy here. Twenty-five in the world is nothing to sneeze at, and if that's the highest you can reach, and you also happen to be charming and popular, bright and handsome, and money is no problem, life can go ahead remarkably well.
There was a symbolic moment last September when Chrissie's men passed each other, like ships in the night. Jimmy Evert, who has high blood pressure and diverts Chris' attention when he is at her matches, was invited up from Fort Lauderdale to watch her play Hana Mandlikova in the finals of the U.S. Open. Remarkably, it was the first time he had ever seen his daughter win a major championship, and everybody made a big to-do about that. But the real significance was not that it was the first of Chris' big victories that Jimmy had ever seen, but that it was the first really important tournament Chris had ever won as Mrs. J.M. Lloyd. There, in the box at Flushing Meadow, not in the chancel at Fort Lauderdale, was when Jimmy really gave the bride away. John will be all right.
In the five years or so, from 1974 on, when Chris really ruled the sport, she was so good that she says she "cruised" most of the time. A more emotional, diversified player might have grown bored with easy pickings and experimented some, but Chris just carried on, controlled, consistent, without taking chances.
"There were no great athletes for me to contend with," she says. "Evonne never worked hard enough, and Billie Jean admits she wasn't in good shape. Margaret Court was a player and an athlete, that's true, but she lacked the third aspect, the psychological. There are much better athletes now. Tracy is more like me, just a player, but Hana and Andrea are such wonderful athletes. I'm not convinced about Hana yet, though. She can't put players away. She seems more like Evonne. But Andrea seems to have everything—the tennis, the athletic and the psychological."
Navratilova began to press the champion on fast surfaces in the late '70s. Then, more or less simultaneously, came Chris' marriage—which left her too happy to play when John was with her and too sad when he was away—and the ascendancy of Austin. "Your clone," as John McEnroe pegged her to Chris.
In the spring of '79, right after the Lloyds' honeymoon, Austin ended Chris' clay-court streak, and a few months later, at Flushing Meadow, she denied Chris her fifth straight U.S. Open, which would have been a record. By 1980, Austin was thrashing Evert Lloyd at will. She beat her five straight, the last three in straight sets in a space of 10 days. When Evert Lloyd lost yet another final, this time to Navratilova on Jan. 27 in Chicago, Leaird came out to console her. "It doesn't matter," Chris said. "I just don't want to be here."
In February, she quit, 25 years old and burned out. But, to no great surprise, after she lallygagged around with John for a few weeks, the juices started to flow again. By May she was back in the hunt.
Press Conference Question: What did you do all that time when you weren't playing tennis?
Evert Lloyd (long pause, stage leer, excellent timing, loving this): "Well, I'm a married woman now, you know."
She came back with a vengeance, winning the Italian and the French (albeit against lackluster fields) and a grass-court tune-up from Goolagong before nipping Navratilova in the semis at Wimbledon. The showdown with Austin was postponed because Goolagong had eliminated her in the other semi. Then Goolagong upset Chris in the finals, one of only three losses she has suffered in the year she has been back.
Of course, not all the other victories counted as much, even cumulatively, as the semifinal defeat of Austin at Flushing Meadow last year. Nothing came easily at the Open. John had given up his own game after getting whipped in the first round at Wimbledon, and he worked with Chris all summer toward this duel. Then, shortly before she finally could face Austin, Chris got her period. In the quarterfinals, she was lucky to get by Mima Jausovec, a player she normally handles with ease. Only by a matter of hours was she ready for Austin. Finally, then, she said, "I think I can win, John."
But Austin took the first four games, blew Evert Lloyd away as surely as she had in all those matches the previous winter. "Those times I had just quit," Chris says. "I mean mentally, but quit just the same. You see, when Tracy and I play, our styles are so much alike it's really a battle of the mind. And I could have quit again this time, when she had me four-love. But I didn't. I changed my game. I did. I started hitting out more." She was the woman now, and for the first time, too, perhaps the crowd could envision the person hitting the strokes, not just see the strokes themselves. Austin held on to win the first set, 6-4, but after that it was a rout for Evert Lloyd, one and one, and she was first in the world again.
"I've always had one person in my life—one man," she says. "First my father, then Jimmy, now John. That night five years ago, when I won Wimbledon but was still so sad, I was glad for that in a way. I knew for sure at that moment that tennis wasn't the only thing in my life. I don't want tennis to be my only love. I'm a person who has to give."
Yet, it's also true that in what she did for herself last year—just plain up and quitting, and coming back and scratching out the victory over Austin—Evert Lloyd gave herself something that no one else ever could have provided her. Getting married to an understanding dreamboat was not, as it turned out, the culmination of her youth. No, given Evert Lloyd's upbringing, that was merely something in the cards, something she had to get out of the way before she went about finishing the task of forming herself.
"You see," Casals says, "Tracy is still a caterpillar, but now Chris is a butterfly, and everything will be perfect now. She has the perfect husband and the perfect life, and when the baby comes, don't worry, it'll be the right thing to do at the right time. And someday Chris will play with her in mother-daughter tournaments. It's all there. It's perfect. It's Hollywood. It's a fairy tale."
Somewhere now, Chris laughs. Chris kisses John. Chris puts on tight T shirts. Chris tells jokes. Chris practices volleying. Chris streaks her hair and wears it just like John. The absolute self-assurance she has always manifested on the court that so frightened her own sister now shows up off the court as a fluid kind of confidence and maturity.
Traveling, she never carries her rackets anymore and delights that sometimes she goes undetected. "They're all looking for that porky little kid they've seen on television," she says, laughing. At Wimbledon last year, a cloying story in the Daily Mirror about Britain's tennis sweethearts began, "She has the best boobs in the business, but he has the best pins...."
"Do you have any comment on this sentence?" Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News asked her in a mock-serious tone, brandishing a copy of the Mirror.
"Absolutely," Evert Lloyd replied straightaway in kind. "It's high time that the press finally got one thing right about me."
Even her appearance on court has been modified, her traditional one-piece dresses having been replaced this year by the racier Continental separates she wears for her new couturier, Ellesse. Evert Lloyd has also taken to wearing bobby sox instead of those cutesy-poo little numbers with the pompons, which is, for tennis, a fashion footwear bombshell on the order of Baryshnikov suddenly appearing at Lincoln Center in galoshes.
But there also are some things that don't change: the dainty barrettes holding her hair just so, the polished fingernails, the old-fashioned wood racket, the inscrutable, placid face, never revealing emotions even if a reddening nose gives some clue to the exertions taking place. Watch very carefully and you'll notice a slight grimace whenever an opponent hits a drop shot to lure her to the net, but that's all, just gritted teeth. When she serves, it's not a grunt she utters like other tennis mortals but a soft sigh, and as she prepares to receive a serve, she doesn't bounce about so much as she dances for us. At the conclusion of each shot, wherever she is on the court, her left hand reaches for the throat of the racket, ready to grasp the handle for a backhand. Occasionally, between points, she will touch a palm to her hip, drying her hand delicately. While resting during changeovers, other players may flop down, legs out; Evert Lloyd always makes sure to sit straight up, tucking one leg back, heel up on the chair leg, the other slightly extended, as if she were awaiting tea. Listen, it's not that bad to take up sweating, so long as you do it stylishly.
"She came along at a time when the audience expects to be involved, to be a part of you," Tinling says. "And the audience could see right away that she didn't want that. She had to learn to impose her own distinctive stardom, and she has become the most gracious world champion I've ever seen. At a time when controversy and manners have been called up for discussion, Chris has forever proved to be that thing my mother would have called a lady.
"And that Chris has a heart of steel and makes no bones about it—that makes this accomplishment all the more impressive." That's why the lady is a jock.
Chris cuddles up on the couch next to John. "Oh, I was so rigid," she says. "So cautious. But I'll get there eventually. I will. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there."
Will you even start to go to the net?
"I'll be so much more passionate," she answers instead, and she throws her arms round John's neck and kisses him full on the lips, so that he has to laugh at all the things she can, with assurance, do away from the baseline now.