Like Kareem, Reggie, Billie Jean, O.J., Arnie and Pelé, Martina has outlived the need for a surname, which is just as well, because few athletes have suffered such indignities of mispronunciation as she. In spite of almost a decade of practice, tennis umpires on both sides of the Atlantic still have trouble wrapping their tongues around...Natri-lova...Natra-vi-lova...Navra-ti-lo-va. Ahh, now you've got it.
But Martina's singularity only begins with her name. She doesn't look like anybody else. Her hooded and slightly melancholy hazel eyes, the flat planes of her face, her straight, baby-fine hair and the extraordinary definition of the muscles of her arms and legs fit no known mold. She doesn't behave like anyone else. At one time or another she overindulged, with the joyous abandon of the newly rich, in almost everything a capitalist society has to offer, and her not-so-private life has now and then been the talk if not the toast of several continents. She didn't want her life off the court scrutinized, but it happened.
And, when Martina is at her best, she doesn't play like anyone else. She is sublimely gifted in strength, athleticism and talent for tennis. The top of her game beats the top of everybody else's. But. She has the temperament of an operatic diva of the old school. Not since Suzanne Lenglen has such an extravagant personality occupied the center court of women's tennis. Martina is at once warm, generous, passionate, impulsive, paranoid, arrogant, sentimental and naive. At times her mercurial nature inspires her play; at others it gets in the way. Ted Tinling, the majordomo of the women's game, once told World Tennis, "She is the greatest serve-and-volleyer women's tennis has ever seen. She has fantastic concept, unbelievable imagination." But. "She has that dramatic Slav temperament that requires the stimulus of a crisis.... She's always going to have the storm; she's always going to underassess her opponent and underassess her own ability to handle it when the storm hits. I've always said she goes from arrogance to panic with nothing in between."
The most recent instance of Martina's special brand of panic occurred in the final of the Avon Championships at Madison Square Garden in March. Having won all five of the Avon tournaments she had entered in 1982, and with a 27-match winning streak going, she played a breathtaking first set against West Germany's Sylvia Hanika at the Garden. Martina won the set 6-1, and at the press table during the changeover, memories were ransacked for instances of comparable perfection. The next day The New York Times said she had played "an almost flawless 23-minute first set that resembled John McEnroe attacking Bjorn Borg's baseline topspin game."
May 23, 1982
In the opening game of the second set, Martina broke Hanika's serve again, and at 3-1 it looked as though the match might be one of the shortest in tennis history. Then Hanika, on the brink of losing her serve again, hit a lucky let-cord volley at deuce and a backhand passing shot down the line for the game, and the tenor of the match changed. As Martina's confidence began to wither, Hanika's grew. She started hitting out with assurance and won the next four games and the set. In the third set, while serving at 4-4, Martina hit an easy forehand volley into the bottom of the net at 0-15, struck a forehand approach nearly into the seats at 15-30 and netted a routine forehand cross-court passing shot at 30-40. Hanika served out the match at love.
Immediately a chorus of a thousand voices, most of them sportswriters', revived that familiar refrain: Martina Loses the Big Ones. They recalled the final of the Toyota Championships in December, when she had won eight straight games to take a 6-2, 2-0 lead and then lost the match 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and probably the No. 1 ranking for 1981 as well. They remembered last year's U.S. Open title match against Austin, in which Martina had won the first set 6-1 and then, at 4-4 in the second, at break point, dumped a shoulder-high forehand volley into the net and eventually lost 1-6, 7-6, 7-6. Of course, if Martina had beaten Hanika that day in New York, the same chorus would have broken into its other favorite: Martina Always Wins Indoors. The chorus always has the last word.
Two weeks after the shocker at the Garden, Martina came back and won the Family Circle Cup at Hilton Head on clay, a surface that is said to be inimical to her aggressive style of play. Martina was seeded to meet Chris Evert Lloyd, the greatest clay-court player of them all, in the finals, but a patient Andrea Jaeger defeated Evert Lloyd in the semifinals. Martina beat Jaeger decisively. The next day Martina read that the Family Circle was the first clay-court tournament she had won in two years. She pointed out that because she had played only four events on that surface during the span, the record wasn't so bad. But by then the chorus had gone home. Her next opportunity to catch its attention will come on the red clay at the French Open beginning next week, the tournament she has been focusing on since the conclusion of the indoor season.
Three weeks ago Martina took over the No. 1 ranking in women's tennis from Evert Lloyd, who, along with Austin, has been her primary rival for the top spot the last three years. Regardless of their inner turmoil under competitive stress, Evert Lloyd and Austin rarely display any emotion on court, and they almost never give away a match. Concentration is their gift, consistency is their greatest weapon, attrition is their overriding strategy. A temperament such as Martina's can be a wellspring of brilliance that brings tennis fans to their feet cheering, but, unharnessed, and with Evert Lloyd or Austin across the net, it's about as helpful as a clubfoot.
While Evert Lloyd, at age 27, has won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, Martina, at 25, has won but three—Wimbledon in 1978 and 1979 and the Australian Open just last December. She was ranked No. 1 off and on from 1978 through 1980 and has been no lower than third for six of the last seven years. She has won more money in a single year ($865,437 in 1981) than any woman who has ever played the game. She is second only to Evert Lloyd in career earnings ($3,847,752 to $3,808,904). She has been virtually invincible on the indoor circuit the past four years. She is easily the best doubles player around today. Yet her chapter in the history of tennis isn't as memorable as her gifts indicate it should be.
"You see, it always comes easy," she says, somewhat hesitantly, as if she were discussing a jinx. "I waited for it. But when I look back to '78...if I'd worked as hard back then as I do now.... But at least I know I still have plenty of time. It's not like I'm 30. I'm still ahead of where Billie Jean was at this stage, and she had a pretty great career."
Actually, by her 25th year Billie Jean had won not only two Wimbledons and an Australian Open but the first of her four U.S. championships as well. However, Martina's argument is still valid. Billie Jean was only warming up at 25. Her best years and seven more Grand Slam singles championships were still to come. If Martina's best years do lie ahead, we are in for a treat. "It's possible that if she ever got the mental part together, she could be unbeatable," says Evert Lloyd. "If she does, I hope I'm not around."
But 25 is mid-life for a tennis player, and Martina has no more time to waste. She has created her crisis. The storm has hit. It is now or never.
It is an early spring day in Dallas. The trees are in first leaf, and the air is warm, soft and a little muggy. Martina and Nancy Lieberman, the out-of-work basketball player who is her friend, trainer, roommate and full-time cheerleader for the past year, are driving north on Interstate 75. They're heading for a shopping center where Lieberman is to spend an hour in a B. Dalton store autographing copies of her new book, Basketball My Way. The two are riding in Martina's silver Mercedes 450 SL with the top down, Lieberman at the wheel, her red hair and spirits flying. A station wagon pulls alongside, and two little yellow-haired girls lean out a window and shriek, "Hi, Martina!" Martina smiles and waves, although unenthusiastically. She's telling a story, and one of the drawbacks of being famous, she has found, is that one can't tell a story without being interrupted. She's in the process, she says, of trying to sell her Jeep, and the story has to do with why she owns a Jeep in the first place. She has to shout over the rush of the wind to be heard. "I bought it when I bought my condo in Palm Springs," says Martina. "I got it to ride around in the sand dunes. When I bought the condo, nothing was around it but sand. Then they built another golf course."
Nancy interrupts. "Tell the truth, Martina," she says, inserting the needle. Then, without a pause, Lieberman continues, "This is the truth. When Martina started earning a living and defected to America she said, 'I'm gonna buy one of everything.' And that's exactly what she did. When she moved to my house in Dallas last year and I started unpacking, I mean...God! There's nothing we don't have in our house and some things that we have two of."
"Shut up," mutters Martina, but she's laughing.
"We have a massage table," says Lieberman. "Something no home should be without. One day she said, 'Guess what I got.' I thought, 'Oh, no. I shudder to think.' She says, 'A massage table.' I said, 'Oh, good. I didn't know when we were going to get one.' Some people have a different pair of shoes for every day of the week. Martina has a car for every day of the week. She's finicky."
"I have an explanation for every one of those cars," says Martina.
At last count Martina owned seven cars—a Toyota Supra and a Pontiac J car, both of which she won in tournaments, a 733 BMW, the silver Mercedes, a Porsche 928, a 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and a white 1976 Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible, which is valued at $165,000 new.
"I didn't pay that," says Martina. "Used ones run between $50,000 and $100,000. It's a gorgeous car. I'm going to keep the Corniche."
"We're going to move into the Corniche," says Nancy, not about to let up. "It's going to be our place of residency."
"I always liked convertibles," says Martina.
"Convertibles, jewelry, watches, food, antiques...."
"No, no, no," says Martina.
"...paintings, wobbly tables, round beds, square beds, long couches, short couches, blue shoes, red shoes, white shoes, big heels, small heels...."
"You're full of it."
"I mean, we have to walk into the airport with blinders on her because she sees ads for watches."
"You know that Delirium watch, the real thin one? I want the female version with the itty-bitty diamonds around it. It's sooo beautiful."
"And it's only $8,000. Another item no home should be without."
"I'm impulsive," says Martina. "If I see something I like, it doesn't matter if it costs $100 or $10,000. But I don't get that way very much...not often...not anymore."
"Cough, cough, cough."
"I don't, Nancy. Don't keep making fun. I used to spend a lot more money than I do now. This year I haven't really spent any money at all."
Lieberman is everything Martina is not—practical, frugal and single-minded. She is a gritty, city-bred optimist who, unlike Martina, carries no excess idealistic baggage. But one thing appalls Lieberman. Waste. Waste of money, waste of talent, waste of opportunity. She saw it all in Martina soon after they met a year ago at a tournament at Amelia Island, Fla. She saw Martina lose in the final there to Evert Lloyd 6-0, 6-0. A month later, Lieberman watched her lose again, to Hanika in the quarters of the French, and she couldn't understand it.
"But once I saw her practice habits, I knew why," says Lieberman. "It was poor practice, and there wasn't enough of it. I always felt if I worked my rear end off, even if I weren't shooting well, some other part of my game would hurt you. If Martina wasn't doing something well, her whole game would fall apart. The better conditioned you are, the stronger you are mentally."
So began a conditioning program that has Martina in the best physical shape of her life. She weighs 145 pounds—down from a high of 167 in early 1976—and is especially proud of the fact that she's now a size 10. She's also all muscle. A skin-fold caliper test in December determined that her body fat accounted for just 8.8% of her total weight. Normal for a female tennis player is 12% to 14%.
"It was Nancy who pushed me," says Martina. "She just wouldn't let me sit still. I'd say, 'I can't go on anymore.' I'd start crying, literally, because I was so tired. She knew where my limit was better than I did."
"I only wish somehow we had met years ago at a banquet or something," says Lieberman, "like I met Chris and Tracy. I was as hardheaded then as I am now, so I'm sure we would have been good for each other. She would have won five Wimbledons by now."
Martina and Lieberman have been working out at SMU's Dedman Center since last summer, Martina on the Universal machines, Lieberman with free weights to strengthen her legs. Nancy can do three sets of 10 squats with 210 pounds of iron on her shoulders, but her musculature barely shows. By contrast, Martina's extraordinary definition is evident even in repose. "I can show you pictures of me when I was eight years old," she says. "I was always all muscles."
One of the first places Martina's newfound fitness showed was in ABC's Women Superstars competition at Key Biscayne, Fla., in February. She finished third, behind Anne Meyers, another unemployed basketball player, and Lieberman, who both had trained strenuously for the Superstars. "It was funny," says Pam Shriver, Martina's doubles partner. "In the bicycling event they go twice around the track. Martina was four back, then three back and then all of a sudden about three-quarters of the way around on the second lap everyone else just stopped. That's what it looked like, at least. I mean Martina poured it on. The others were pedaling but nothing was happening."
Connie Spooner, the Women's Tennis Association's head trainer, watched the same event and said to herself, "Oh my God, her legs are just as strong as her upper body. A year ago she was out of shape, she looked kind of haggard and her game was slipping. Now she's probably the best-conditioned player on the circuit, and that's Nancy's influence. She's also much more up now than she was. Last year I saw her moodier than she'd ever been, and I attribute that to the people she was hanging around with. But she bounced back."
What Martina bounced back from was 14 months in the thrall of Rita Mae Brown, now 37, a novelist best known in lesbian literary circles when they met. Martina and Lieberman became friends just as the Brown phase of Martina's life was ending. That was in April 1981. By August, Martina had left the big house in Charlottesville, Va., where she had lived with Brown, and moved into Lieberman's modest town house in Dallas. They share it with a third roommate, Rhonda Rompola, a former teammate of Lieberman's at Old Dominion.
Because of a story in the New York Daily News on July 30, 1981 that reported Martina, admitting for the first time that she was bisexual, she and Lieberman felt compelled to set the record straight about their own relationship. So they announced Martina's move to Dallas to the press of that city. They were friends, they said, one bisexual, the other straight, and they had decided to share Lieberman's house because it was financially and professionally convenient. Brown has made references, veiled and otherwise, to Martina's having left her for another woman, but Martina is through talking about the subject, at least for the time being. "I don't care what they say about me," she says. "But Nancy shouldn't have to suffer just for being my friend."
Fortunately, it takes more than a little gossip to get Lieberman down. As she told the Dallas Morning News, "I just want to help her, and if people think something else, that's their problem."
Lieberman has helped and so has Renee Richards. During last year's U.S. Open, she signed on as Martina's coach—the first real coach she has had since leaving Czechoslovakia in 1975. Under Richards' supervision Martina has overhauled her game, shot by shot, adding a topspin backhand to her slice, whipping her forehand volley into shape ("I was swinging at it like a ground stroke," she says) and changing her serve to make it more effective.
"I no longer take a step back when I hit it," she says. "And I jump into the ball rather than lean into it, which gives me better pace and better spin. I also stand closer to the sideline so I get a better angle, the way John McEnroe does. That took a while to get used to; not the serving closer to the sideline, because I do that in doubles, but getting back into the middle of the court when I come to net."
Richards is 47 now and no longer plays the circuit. Amply qualified to coach, she is especially well suited to Martina. Richards is a talented athlete, extremely intelligent and, like Martina, a powerful lefthanded player. In her earlier life, as Richard Raskind, she had been a highly ranked Eastern player, and in 1974 was No. 13 in the U.S. in the Men's 35s. Also like Martina, she has been through a lot. Finally, and perhaps most important, Richards, along with Lieberman, represents unqualified, unquestioning support. "Competing at a high level in an individual sport is extremely tough," says Sandra Haynie, the LPGA Hall of Fame golfer who shared a house in Dallas with Martina from 1976 to 1978 and who is often credited with having been the first stablizing influence in her young friend's then helter-skelter life. "You're totally by yourself. You have complete responsibility for success and failure, and that tends to make you feel lonely. Away from the court you want people; you want support."
"Certain parts of Martina have developed and others haven't," says Rosie Casals, a veteran touring pro. "She's very easily influenced, very impressionable, and I think she'll be that way forever. But she's very, very generous—probably too much so, because people take advantage of her. She doesn't ever see bad things about people. She'll refuse to see something that's so obvious everybody else sees it and points it out. She'll say, 'What are you talking about?' "
"Martina takes on other people's characteristics," says Evert Lloyd. "I don't know what that quality is. It's not being yourself, really. Maybe it's a searching. When I first got to know her she was lost, more or less. She was torn between going back to Czechoslovakia and wanting to be an American citizen. She was very much alone and very lost and very emotional. But we got along well."
In her soon-to-be-released autobiography, Chrissie, Evert Lloyd tells of a doubles match she and Martina lost to Casals and Frankie Durr in 1976. Durr had a dog named Topspin whose job it was to carry her racket off the court in his mouth at the end of a match. The mood was tense because Evert Lloyd had lost to Martina in the singles final. At the conclusion of the doubles match, Topspin, as usual, picked up the racket and trotted off behind Durr. In a moment of inspiration, Martina grabbed Evert Lloyd's racket, put it in her teeth, and walked off the court behind her. Evert Lloyd collapsed in laughter and the tension of the evening was dissipated.
"All the other women at that time—Margaret Court, Billie Jean—were pretty strong and independent and had their own lives," says Evert Lloyd. "Martina was a child in a strong body. I think she always felt uncomfortable inside her body. That was a time when we used to double-date, go out with guys, and she had a great time. She was really into it. She was dressing up and looking feminine and everything. But she was heavy, and maybe her self-image wasn't that good. Adolescence is tough for a girl athlete, especially one who is strong and muscular and not the American type."
"When I beat her in the semis of the '78 U.S. Open, she showed an awful lot of character," says Shriver. "I was 16 and basically nobody, and she had won Wimbledon two months earlier. I played a tough match and she didn't play that well. But what she said to the press was so classy, things like, 'People told me that Pam would choke, but she played it like a champion.' When a lot of players lose they say this was wrong or that was wrong, a call here, a call there. What Martina did that day impressed me."
One of the first people Martina impressed was a little old lady the players called Madame Kozelska. She lived in a tiny apartment just off the courts at Klamovka, the ancient, drafty hall that housed the only indoor courts in Prague when Martina began playing there in 1965. Madame Kozelska earned her keep looking after the locker rooms at Klamovka, cleaning up every day after the players were gone. And, of course, she knew everything that was going on.
"She was like a little scuttle bug," recalls Martina. "She knew who were the bad kids and who were the good kids and who was charging what for lessons and who was a good coach. She saw me play when I was nine, and she knew I was talented, so she told George Parma about me." Parma had been ranked No. 2 in Czechoslovakia, and when a chronic bad back ended his playing career at age 29, he did what most retired Czech tennis players do—he became a coach. Parma had a slice backhand and an excellent forehand, both of which he passed on to Martina, but she thinks her style of play was in her genes.
"I was eight years old and I had to come to the net," says Martina. "My [step]father would say, 'That's fine, but now let's practice your ground strokes.' When I was at net and someone tried to pass me, I would dive for the ball, literally. The little girls would hit lobs, and I'd run back for them and then run right back to the net again. Some kids you couldn't pull to the net with a crowbar."
At first Martina was exceptionally small for her age, second shortest in a class of 30 in the third grade, but in the eighth grade she shot up. "People said I would stunt my growth from playing so much tennis," she recalls. "My mother made me little bitty blue shorts, and we wore physical-education T shirts with V necks and canvas shoes. My [step]father would yell at me something awful, but he never beat me up like some of the others. I've seen some fathers who beat up their children just for losing."
Revnice (pronounced zhevneetza), the little town 15 miles southwest of Prague where Martina grew up, is surrounded by forests and mountains, and she learned to ski before she took up tennis. "My [step] father had a motorcycle, and when it snowed he would pull me on skis through the town. That was fun. It was a great place to be a child. I wouldn't change that for the world. When I quit playing I want to ski again. Nancy says I have one of everything, but I don't have a place in the mountains. I love the quiet, only the sound of the wind and your skis in the snow."
Once she was nine and being coached in Prague, Martina's life became a whirlwind of school and practice, with a succession of trains and trolleys connecting the two. "I would get out of class at 1:45 and catch the 2:05 train to Prague," she says. "In between I ate lunch and ran a mile to the station. I was in great shape in those days. I never had time to walk."
Martina's mother, Jana, and father, Mirek Subert, were divorced when Martina was three. Three years later Jana married Mirek Navratii. Subert visited Martina once or twice a year until she was about seven, and then he stopped. "When he didn't come I'd ask my mother, 'When will he come to see me?' " says Martina. Not until she was 10 did she learn he had died. He had committed suicide. "My father was very emotional," says Martina. "I think I am just like him."
Another blow she suffered last year was the death of her beloved grandmother, Andela Subertova. Almost worse than her death for Martina was the fact that her parents chose not to tell her about it. She learned of it a month later when she received the traditional black-bordered death notice from an aunt. Martina was sitting in a car parked outside a supermarket in a Dallas shopping center as she spoke of her grandmother, tears streaming down her cheeks. "My grandmother lived in Prague, near the indoor courts at Klamovka," she said. "She would bring me carrot salad and tell me if I ate it I would see better."
Three important events in Martina's life occurred in 1968, when she was 11. First, Parma left Prague to coach in Austria for a while and Martina's stepfather, who had observed Parma's methods for three years, took over. Second, in August, Martina was allowed to travel to Pilsen to play a junior tournament. She stayed at the home of her best friend and doubles partner, Vera Hrdinova, the niece of Vera Sukova, the coach of the women's national team and a Wimbledon finalist in 1962.
Martina and her stepfather arrived in Pilsen on a Thursday night for the tournament, which was to begin the next day and run through Sunday. On Friday morning Martina and her friend were awakened by a call from her friend's father, telling them not to go outside because there were tanks in the streets.
The Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia, bringing to an end the brief Prague spring of liberalization and, of more importance to Martina at the moment, an end to her exciting weekend. The tournament was canceled, and she and Mirek got back on his new motorcycle and returned to Revnice.
"Coming into Pilsen the roads had been clean," recalls Martina. "On the way back they were all torn up by the tanks. There were thousands of cars and tanks and soldiers. It was unreal. Nobody knew it was coming except the guys high up in the government, and nobody knew what effect it would have."
The only direct effect on Martina was that, because of the political situation, Parma never returned to Prague. Today he is teaching tennis in, of all places, Palm Springs. "He's still good-looking," says Martina, "but then he was just gorgeous. When I was nine I had such a crush on him. I still did when I came to this country."
By 1972, when she was 15 and the Czech women's champion, she was competing regularly in Europe and North America and beginning to chafe at the restraints imposed by the Czech Tennis Federation, which controlled players by means of its power to rescind their travel permits. In 1974 she won her first tournament in the U.S., a $50,000 Virginia Slims event in Orlando, Fla. That year she also would reach at least the semifinals in either singles or doubles or both at the Italian, French, German and Australian opens.
In July 1975, after Wimbledon, Mirek, Jana, Martina and her younger half sister, also named Jana, returned to Czechoslovakia by car after a brief vacation in France. Their route took them through Pilsen, where the Czech championships were under way. "Everybody was surprised to see us," says Martina. "This guy in the tennis federation had spread rumors that the whole family had left the country, that we were never going to be seen again. That started it."
The all-powerful tennis federation announced that it wouldn't allow Martina to enter the U.S. Open at the end of the summer. She was told that she liked the U.S. too much. Only when Jan Kodes, a Czech who was the 1973 Wimbledon champion, interceded on her behalf did the federation begin to bend. Finally, two days before she had been scheduled to depart, the federation said she could go. "I was a wreck," she says. "But once I was here I knew I wasn't going to go back, so it was just a matter of time until I put it together."
On Friday of the second week of the Open, Martina lost to Evert Lloyd in the semis. That evening Martina and her agent, Fred Barman, went to the offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in lower Manhattan. They stayed until 10 p.m. filling out papers. When they had finished, an immigration official told Martina not to say anything about what she had done, and she didn't. "As it turns out, on Sunday The Washington Post had a story that said I had asked for political asylum," says Martina. "The guy's telling me to be quiet, and it's in the paper two days later!"
From September 1975, when she was 18, until July 21, 1981, when she became a U.S. citizen in Los Angeles, Martina was officially a stateless person. "It bothered me," she says, with what one can only guess is considerable restraint. "It was very depressing not belonging anywhere."
By the end of 1979, however, Martina was known everywhere. She was 23, ranked No. 1 in the world and had just won her second straight Wimbledon singles title. She also was a self-made millionaire, and her parents and sister, from whom she had been separated for four years and whom she had thought she might never see again, had at last obtained permission to visit her in the U.S. Finally, the granting of her citizenship appeared to be imminent. One year later, her ranking had slipped to No. 3, she had won no more major championships, her citizenship still hadn't come through and her family had returned to Czechoslovakia several months before it might have been necessary. Martina still earned a record $749,250 in 1980, but it apparently was not enough to buy peace.
Bad blood had risen between Martina and her parents during the parents' stay in a house she had bought for them in Dallas. Their disapproval of the way she lived her life was part of the reason, but the adjustments they had to make were also daunting. "I was sorry to see them go," says Martina, "but it's so much easier this way. I was their daughter, but I was taking care of them, not just physically but emotionally, too. I was always saying, 'Don't worry, everything will be all right.' And my [step]father is happiest when he's the center of attention. He was a bigger deal at home in Czechoslovakia than he was here, plus he didn't speak the language. But I think my sister will come back someday. She liked it a lot."
The family fences have been patched now, if not entirely mended. With Martina's financial assistance, her parents have bought a larger house close to the tennis courts in Revnice and, for the first time, a car. Her stepfather has his old job back, and they are free to come and go these days, so they plan to meet Martina in Paris next week at the French.
Meanwhile, Martina mulls over the past and tries to put together a coherent present. "I found out from my mother when she was here that I have a brother somewhere running about," she says. "My real father had a son before he married my mother. And you won't believe how I found out. I went to a psychic. He told me, 'You have a sister,' and he told me about my parents, and he said, 'You were close to your grandmother.' He was right about everything. Then he said, 'You have a brother, too, don't you?' I said, 'No, I don't.' But he kept up about that. I said, 'Well, my mother had a miscarriage, it could have been that.' So, I told my mother how funny it was that this guy kept insisting I had a brother. A psychic, ha, ha, ha. Well, my mother says, 'You do have a brother, don't you know? Didn't I tell you that?' I said, 'No, Mama, I think I would remember that.' So I have a half brother and I don't know his name. I don't know how old he is. I don't know what he looks like. We have different names. Chances are he doesn't know I am his sister." She shrugs as if to say it hardly matters, but her telltale hazel eyes look bruised.
"Some people are better exiles than others," says Casals. "Martina was definitely a good one. She's a survivor."
Of course, surviving as No. 1 is the test of any champion, and Martina failed the first time around. "It's a real mental situation after a while, being No. 1," says Casals. "Chris will tell you, it's not fun when people start gunning for you. I think that for the last two years the intensity has been gone for Martina. But now she's playing the best tennis I've ever seen her play. Now she knows what it takes."
She also has made peace with some of the devils that used to pursue her. The tennis audiences that once resisted accept her now. Sometimes, as at the U.S. Open last year, they even love her. The press has ceased to hound her about her personal life, for the time being at least, and she seems to have adopted a position in regard to the media that compromises neither her idea of her right to privacy nor her innate honesty. But when Brown's next novel appears—it concerns a woman in her thirties who falls in love with a young woman on the tennis tour—Martina surely will be tested again.
Acceptance has always come slowly to her. She was different. She didn't fit in familiar niches. And she was incapable of calculated charm, of setting out to make people like her. She could only hope that sooner or later tennis fans and the press would take her as she is. Now all that remains to be conquered are the devils on the inside, the ones that have so often grabbed Martina around the heart, just when she most needed to be fearless, and squeezed until even her magnificent talent was no longer equal to the job at hand.
"I have no explanation for why it happens sometimes and not others," she says. "But I think I have the answer for avoiding it and that's to hit out more when the pressure is on. Rod Laver said that's what he did. Now I think I'm able to ward off the panic. I think I got over it against Jaeger at Hilton Head. I was missing a lot of forehands, so I started putting more spin on the ball. The topspin was bouncing higher and the slice was bouncing lower, and I never made another error. I'm so excited. I really am. Nothing like that ever happened to me on a tennis court."
She leaned back in a chair, not her own, in a house, not her own, in a country, not quite her own, and for a moment looked as if she owned the world. "Arrogance to panic," she said with a chuckle. "That's a great line. You won't see me go from arrogance to panic with nothing in between anymore. I know there's still a place for me in the history of tennis. It's not too late."