Down Under, Navratilova lost in the quarterfinals to Helena Sukova but won the Pan Pacific Open the next week in Tokyo, pulling the final out late from Lori McNeil. Even then she couldn't shake the feeling that she wasn't fully herself. On clay, the surface on which she is least comfortable, it grew worse. "I was unsure. I had to think basic technique," she says. "I was thinking so hard about hitting the ball at all, I had no energy to rid myself of bad habits."
In April, on the clay at the Amelia Island tournament in Florida, where she lost to Gabriela Sabatini, Navratilova's new coach, Craig Kardon, and longtime strategist, Renee Richards, watched her closely. "Her confidence was shot," Kardon says. "She was hitting the ball great. But she was tense. She should have been on autopilot. But she was clenching the controls."
He is being diplomatic. "I was mentally burned out," says Navratilova.
Richards sat down with her and launched the torpedo. "She said, "Don't play the French,' " recalls Navratilova. " 'Bag the clay courts. Take time away to recharge. Get your serve-and-volley game in gear and just prepare for Wimbledon.' I thought about it for 30 seconds, and then got this big smile as I felt a boulder roll off my shoulders."
Navratilova went home and did nothing but let her energy bubble back from its wellsprings. "For the first time ever," she says, "I had a week to do whatever I wanted. I worked on my tan. I saw three movies. I read. I wasn't wild about The Bonfire of the Vanities. Such losers, those characters." She found Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead intriguing, but couldn't finish Marlene Dietrich's autobiography. "I got tired of her two-part personality," she says. "Especially the male-subjected part. She didn't want to serve roast beef because a man had to carve, and she didn't want to impose on her guests. Yuck"
Navratilova's remarkable ferocity was soon restored. And she leaps to deny that regrouping for Wimbledon is any kind of a desperate final act. "This isn't my last stand," she says. "I'm not Custer by any means. If it were my last Wimbledon, I'd be feeling the pressure now. But it's not. Each Wimbledon is an entity, a capsule."
Last year at Wimbledon, Navratilova fought through her matches with mounting stiffness in her legs. "I was exhausted by the time I played Chris [in the semis]," she says. "I had a problem even going up stairs. I was overjoyed at making the final against Steffi, and it was a miracle I won the first set. By then I couldn't use my legs in my serve at all. Steffi was rifling everything back, and people were saying how she'd improved. But now my second serve is harder than my first serve was then."
She made no excuses but plunged into training with basketball player Nancy Lieberman, who had played a large role in Navratilova's ascension and dominance through the early '80s. "But then I felt a hip flexor pain in Montreal [at the Canadian Open the week before the U.S. Open]," says Navratilova. An exam finally revealed that her lower back was so clenched that it was pulling other muscles taut. Osteopathic treatments and stretching have since kept the ailment under control.
Fully refreshed by her minivacation following Amelia Island, Navratilova put herself on a Lieberman-driven regimen of weightlifting, sprints, drills and full-court basketball. Since mid-May she has been playing two to four hours of tennis a day with Kardon. The specific requirements of playing Graf are brutally clear. "Steffi gets to every ball," says Navratilova. "She could have been a quarter-miler, so she's faster than anyone—but not quicker."
In that distinction lies the seed of a plan. Navratilova must challenge not Graf's speed afoot but her reactions. "A great serve-and-volley player will always beat a great baseline player," says Navratilova, "so long as the court is this size. The way to beat Steffi is to attack, unless you're Sabatini and hit ground strokes that bounce 20 feet in the air."