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Mandlikova admits she was spoiled as a youngster. "I was very lucky to have my father and certain teachers who would let me practice," she says. "I was spoiled, but in a good way, I think. But I know in some ways it makes me young for my age."
Her tennis, however, showed an early maturity—an aggressive, serve-and-volley style with plenty of variety. "I've always liked changes, and the beautiful shot," she says. "Sometimes too much." Navratilova recalls that when she was the best junior player in Prague, the talent of the 10-year-old Mandlikova was obvious. "I have never been surprised by any of Hana's success," says Martina. "If anything, she's probably been hindered by getting the 'unlimited potential' tag. I went through that, and it's a lot of extra pressure."
Eventually, Mandlikova played in matches outside Czechoslovakia. By the time she was 16, she was the best junior player in the world, and though she spoke almost no English, she was spending weeks at a time playing tournaments in the U.S. Many of her early off-court memories of America are not pleasant. She recalls paying a taxi driver in San Antonio $50 for a ride from the airport to a hotel. She didn't understand she had been taken until the ride back cost her only $8. "I was very lonely," she says. "My phone bill was hundreds of dollars a month, and we had little money then."
Mandlikova began to fulfill her promise in 1980 when, as an 18-year-old, she won the Australian Open and upset Navratilova at Wimbledon. The next year she defeated Evert Lloyd to win the French Open, knocked off Navratilova at Wimbledon and rose to No. 4 in the world. She injured her back at the end of 1981 and stayed off the tour for the first 2½ months of 1982. When she came back, she exhibited a disturbing tendency to beat herself with erratic play. By late 1983, she was suffering from tennis ennui, losing in shocking capitulations to no-names like Catrin Jexell, Elizabeth Smylie and Sharon Walsh, and her ranking fell to 12th.
In January 1984, Mandlikova won her first tournament in 2½ years, and a few weeks later she stopped Navratilova's 54-match winning streak. Mandlikova had won five tournaments by April, but failed to win another for the rest of the year. The Mandlikova of 1985, however, has won two tournaments, has beaten both Navratilova and Evert Lloyd, and seems to be maintaining her concentration better than ever as the Grand Slam events approach. Still, the unlimited potential tag continues to overshadow her accomplishments.
"Magnificent talents blown by capricious winds," says Ted Tinling. "Hana has quicker reflexes than anyone else, marvelous physical movements. There's no doubt that if she can manage to get some mental consistency, she can be the best player in the business. She is the heiress apparent, waiting. But only apparent, not more."
Since 1980, Mandlikova has been coached by Betty Stove, a Wimbledon finalist in 1977. Nicknamed "Duchess" for her regal bearing, Stove played the tour for nearly 20 years and knows the pitfalls of the circuit. She also speaks six languages, though Czech is not among them. Stove speaks German to Mandlik and English to Hana, which has accelerated Hana's grasp of the language.
When asked what her greatest contribution to Mandlikova has been, Stove says, "Peace." Says Mandlikova, "Betty is so calm. I need this because I am not." When she gets a bad call or misses an easy shot, more and more Mandlikova looks to Stove and smiles rather than show the anger that can cause her game to unravel.
Stove's biggest test came during Mandlikova's prolonged slump in 1982 and '83. The experience often strained their relationship, but with Stove's guidance, Mandlikova came to understand that her own intense drive and the expectations of others can be her biggest enemies. "Hana would get very nonchalant against inferior players as a way of escaping the pressure," says Stove. "Then she would lose, and things would get worse."
To combat the psychic toll, Stove and Mandlikova have devised a schedule that allows long periods of rest. Last year Mandlikova played only three times after Carling Bassett upset her at the U.S. Open in September. She spent most of the rest of the year skiing in Europe and working on her game.