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Everyone in the stands knew the umpire had blown the call. "Advantage Evert Lloyd," he had blurted into his microphone on a breezy Florida evening last week. As the spectators at the first-round match of the Eckerd Open murmured, the player victimized by the miscue looked up from the baseline and stared at the offending official in mock reproach.
"Excuse me," he said with a smile. "I mean, advantage Evert." Laughter swept through the stadium.
Evert quickly disposed of her opponent, Gabriela Dinu, 6-2, 6-1, and had no trouble with her next four opponents, including Kate Gompert in the final on Sunday. In her patented business-as-usual manner, Evert beat Gompert 6-3, 6-2 for her 151st tournament title.
Chris Evert's defeating the world's 25th-ranked player on Florida clay shouldn't be stop-the-presses news. But of late Evert's world had seemed strangely out of orbit. She had taken five months off the tour to recover from a painful knee injury and from the hurt of her failed eight-year marriage to British tennis star John Lloyd. She had started losing to players—including Gompert in February—who once were happy to win just a few games from her. People wondered about her physical condition and her desire to resume a career in which she had won at least one Grand Slam crown for 13 straight years.
But now Evert seems to be back on track. On April 14 Chris Evert Lloyd became Chris Evert again, with her divorce from Lloyd. On April 26 in Houston, only two weeks after succumbing to the flu, an ear infection and underdog Manuela Maleeva at the Family Circle Cup at Hilton Head, S.C., Evert staged a stunning revival. She defeated Martina Navratilova, her longtime friend, rival and costar in the women's game. Evert lost the first set 6-3 but fought back to win the next two 6-1, 7-6.
The win did more than lift Evert's ranking from No. 4 to No. 3, behind Navratilova and Steffi Graf. It also underscored a personal victory: After five months of soul-searching, she had regained a two-handed grip on her emotions and ambitions. "I just had to get away from the circuit for a while, spend some time alone and think out my life," she said last week. "I've gone through a lot of emotions in the last year. I think that now I'm still a little bit sad about what happened. I had a great husband."
Sitting on a secluded patio at the Bardmoor Country Club in Largo, Fla., Evert punctuated the last sentence with a small laugh to lighten the mood. Still, her eyes grew misty as she spoke. "He's a great guy," she said. "So I think that both of us are feeling a sadness that it didn't work out. But I know that I feel, and I think John feels, that pressure has been lifted off our shoulders because we made a decision. We'd been going back and forth for two years, trying to work it out and getting marriage counseling. We tried our best, but it just didn't workout."
Their problems were certainly no secret. They first separated in 1984, remaining apart for six months. Although they didn't separate again until last fall, signs of trouble had persisted. There were reports that Chris thought John, who had tumbled from the No. 1 ranking in Britain into tennis oblivion, was too complacent about his deteriorating game. There were also reports of Chris's involvement with other men, including a relationship with British ex-pop star Adam Faith.
Her personal problems began to affect her tennis. While she made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, her coach, Dennis Ralston, detected a change. "At the Open, I could see something wasn't there," he says. "There was so much going on in her head. I think she was trying to sort things out for herself."
Evert's agent, Bob Kain of IMG, noticed similar signs of trouble. "Anyone who's gone through a divorce—and especially someone with Chris's determination and desire to succeed—can imagine how tough it was on her," he says. "They really did try."