The champagne in the press room was hidden away under a table, next to some dead flowers and a bunch of crushed hopes. You don't serve bubbly at a wake, especially on Easter. Fans from the area had gathered amid the gnarled water oaks and Spanish moss of Amelia Island, Fla. to cheer, but they wound up mourning. The Clash on Clay had turned into the Disaster on Dirt as the home-state girl came a cropper. In yet another display of arresting tennis, Martina Navratilova had routed her 6-2, 6-0 in the final of the WTA Championships. If Amelia Island Plantation, where Chris Evert Lloyd owns a condo and is a touring pro, had been the Boston Garden, you might have expected a lone voice to call out, "Chrissie, we loved ya."
How things have changed for Evert Lloyd. Her life, once seemingly so perfect, is less so now. She and her husband, John, have separated, and Navratilova has ended Evert Lloyd's reign as No. 1. Evert Lloyd has even replaced her trusty wooden racket with a midsized graphite model. But clay. That had never changed. Clay would never let her down. Men could come and go. She could frost her hair, lose weight and take up aerobics. But clay would always be there when she needed it. No player—man or woman—has been so closely identified with a playing surface as Evert Lloyd has been with clay.
Navratilova had beaten Evert Lloyd nine straight times going into the WTA Championships. Nonetheless, many tennis buffs believed Evert Lloyd's time had come. On the same court three years ago, she had crushed Navratilova 6-0, 6-0. Before last week, that had been their lone meeting on clay since 1978. Further, Evert Lloyd's clay-court record in Florida was 84-0. All in all, she was 285-7 on the surface. "I feel like I have some strikes against me," said Navratilova on Saturday. "I'm the underdog."
An informal poll of the other players indicated they felt Evert Lloyd stood a good chance. Rarely have so many been so wrong. Sunday's defeat was the most humiliating of Evert Lloyd's career. She saved just 22 points in the match and only 10 in the last eight games. She was tentative as the match began and ended up feeling silly. Her passing shots, the cornerstone of her game, broke down completely. Only twice did she pass Navratilova, who repeatedly came in behind approach shots that hugged the baseline. Navratilova won 17 of the 24 points on which she took the net.
As usual, Navratilova's serve was at a level that no other woman player in history has attained. Twelve times, including the last point of the match, Evert Lloyd failed to get Navratilova's delivery in play. That's a lot of errant returns considering the shortness of the match and the slow surface. "She exposed all of my weaknesses," Evert Lloyd told the spectators afterward. "Believe me, I feel worse than all of you. If you came to see a great match, I'm sorry."
When Navratilova broke service to start the match, she thought, "Well, I'm one game up over three years ago." What followed surprised almost everyone. Even when the players became embroiled in baseline duels, Evert Lloyd usually cracked first. Once, in the opening game of the second set, Evert Lloyd, reaching for a life preserver, uncharacteristically charged the net. Navratilova smugly lofted a couple of lobs to her backhand side. Evert Lloyd barely got back the first one. The second she fouled off lamely. If tennis had a rule against taunting, it would have been invoked here. Navratilova appeared to be saying, "What, me worry? I don't even have to try a passing shot to win a point against Chris's feeble net game."
Women's tennis sorely needed Evert Lloyd at least to be competitive in the final. Tracy Austin was again sidelined with injuries, Andrea Jaeger was plagued with burnout and Pam Shriver seemed content with her No. 3 ranking. The tour's lack of depth has threatened to turn the women's game into a gigantic yawn. "Four or five years ago we had a few stars," said Evert Lloyd. "Now there are only two of us."
NBC, which telecast the tournament on Saturday and Sunday, ran a split-screen promo featuring the two players. First Navratilova popped a tennis ball in her hand; then Evert Lloyd crumpled a ball can a la L.C. Greenwood. This was serious. Navratilova had beaten her on grass, hard courts and indoor carpet. All that remained was clay. In other words, that was Evert Lloyd's last refuge.
Early in the week, Evert Lloyd's fifth wedding anniversary came and went. She and John have been separated since January. "We talked on the phone," said Chris of the anniversary. To escape the crush of fans, she practiced at a nearby club with an L.A. sparring partner named Larry Levinson, 27, who played college tennis at St. Mary's in San Antonio and is now a screenwriter. Said Evert Lloyd, "He's not part of the entourage."
Until the final, Evert Lloyd's game looked sharp, especially in a 6-1, 6-0 quarterfinal rout of Sylvia Hanika. Evert Lloyd then beat 17-year-old Manuela Maleeva of Bulgaria 6-1, 6-1. In their two previous matches, Maleeva, the most promising newcomer on the circuit, had extended her to three sets. Next up: Navratilova. "I want to stop talking about it and just do it," said Evert Lloyd. "I've spent the last five months analyzing and talking to everybody about facing Martina on clay."
Someone asked whom she'd consulted. "I asked Chris Evert how she did it three years ago," said Evert Lloyd drily.
Navratilova's march to the final almost ended on Saturday. Hana Mandlikova, who has won five tournaments this year, including the Virginia Slims of Oakland, where she ended Navratilova's 54-match winning streak, had Martina dead in her sights. Up 3-1, 15-30 in the third set on Navratilova's serve, Mandlikova hit an approach shot and rushed net. The umpire, Richard Kaufman, overruled the linesman and called, "Out." Navratilova looked incredulous. "But I wasn't going to give away the point," she said later. Given that reprieve, she pulled out the game, broke for 4-4, fought off two break points in the ninth game and escaped with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory. Said Navratilova, "Hana should have won. I was thinking, 'Where's the barn?' I couldn't even see the door, let alone hit it."
After that match, and with Evert Lloyd on top of her game, a Navratilova victory on Sunday seemed anything but a certainty. Navratilova had even dropped a set in the quarterfinals to Catherine Tanvier, who's ranked only 24 on the computer. Moreover, Navratilova hadn't played a clay-court event since last spring's French Open. She hadn't entered a tournament of any kind in six weeks because of a hamstring pull in her right leg. And during her layoff she had switched rackets. Finally, she and her longtime companion, Nancy Lieberman, the linchpin of Team Navratilova, had recently decided to go their separate ways. "Nancy and I won't be traveling together," said Navratilova. Would Navratilova's volatile emotions flare again without Lieberman's steadying influence?
Hardly. On Sunday she was so dominant that, like almost everyone else at Amelia, she wound up with a soft spot in her heart for her overwhelmed rival. "I started getting a lump in my throat," said Navratilova. "I know how she feels. I've been there."