Finally, I can't
avoid some regrets. I wish I had pushed myself more to learn to serve and
volley. I wish I hadn't been so committed to Team Tennis in the mid-'70s and
had played the French Open instead. I probably cost myself three French
championships and maybe the Grand Slam in 1976, when I won Wimbledon and the
U.S. Open and dominated all year. I feel sure I would have won Paris on clay
that summer, and with three titles in the bag, I would have played the
Australian Open to try for the Slam, even if it meant spending Christmas away
Wimbledon, that's the bugaboo. I won it three times, in '74, '76 and '81. But I
should have won it seven times. In 1975 I had Billie Jean down 3-0 in the third
set in the semis, but I was going through some heavy stuff with Jimmy that
year. When I looked up in the stands and saw him with Susan George, the
actress, I freaked out. I just couldn't believe he would do that. I couldn't
hit a ball after that and ended up losing the match. Billie Jean crushed Evonne
Goolagong Cawley 6-0, 6-1 in the final.
In 1977 I had
Virginia Wade beaten in the semis. I was a much better player, but I let the
crowd, which was rooting for Virginia because she's English, get to me. She won
6-1 in the third set and then beat Betty Stove in the finals.
In 1978 I had
Martina down 4-2, 40-15 in the third set in the finals, but I had met John that
year. I was thinking of him on every point, I wasn't focused, and I let another
golden opportunity slip away because of a relationship. Looking back, I'd
rather be in love any day, but that's twice love cost me Wimbledon. I just wish
I had been a little tougher.
In the semis in
1980 I finally beat Martina at Wimbledon. But I celebrated so much that the
next day I was in a fog against Evonne and lost 6-1, 7-6.
Next week, at my
19th U.S. Open—a record for women, someone tells me—there'll be no such
excuses. It's not likely that I'll win the tournament for the seventh time, but
I'm going to try my best. The Open is where I made my first big splash, saving
six match points in 1971 to beat Mary Ann Eisel in the second round and reach
the semifinals at 16; where I had the most satisfying victory of my career,
over Tracy Austin in the semis in 1980; and where I washed out most
ignominiously last year, defaulting my semifinal against Steffi with a stomach
A couple of
friends recently told me they didn't even want me to play the Open. They wanted
to remember me by that final wave on Centre Court after I lost to Steffi in the
semis at Wimbledon. I understand why they feel that way but, hey, I want to
play till I run out of gas. At least let me make that decision.
In 1975, when I
won my first U.S. Open, 6-2 in the third over Evonne, I'll never forget looking
up and seeing my mother bawling in the stands. I mean, she was sobbing! I was
like, Mom! How can you show these emotions in public? Control yourself! How
embarrassing! I'm afraid that 14 years later there are going to be one or two
more scenes like that one.
I wish everybody
would do me a favor and not mention the significance of this Open. Don't remind
me it's the last one. I hate any tone of finality. I've never had to deal with
endings. Even winning the tournament won't necessarily make the ending happy.
Giving up tennis will leave a void in my life forever.