Mandlikova's resultant zest is obvious in her spirited practice sessions with Stove and hitting partner Frits Don, a journeyman Dutch touring pro. "C'mon, Fritzie baby," she exhorted across the court during a recent workout. "You must play your best to beat me." The competition often extends to an improvised game combining soccer and tennis, in which Mandlikova's footwork usually outdoes Don's. "Hanki's real talent comes when she is having fun," says Don. "And she is learning how to have that attitude in tournaments." At a Chinese restaurant after another recent practice, Mandlikova's fortune cookie contained the message, "Keeping your irritability under control will be smart." She put the note in her pocket.
"I understand people see so much talent with me, but right now I don't care," Mandlikova says with the fervor of new discovery. "I understand that they want me to be No. 1. But they always put the pressure on me since I join the circuit. Whatever they say, I don't care. That is what Betty learned to me. To be myself.
"I have won 23 tournaments. I won the French, the Australian. I was Wimbledon finalist, twice finalist in the U.S. Open. So if I quit now I would be happy with my career. If I do not make the No. 1 spot, I will not. So what? I know I am doing my best. My father sees the pressures in America. He sees that it is not so easy to be a top player. So he tells me right now to just try your best. And don't worry, tennis is not everything."
Nonetheless, the circuit doesn't leave much room for anything else. Mandlikova has bittersweet memories of a wealthy Englishman she met in 1981 and saw on a regular basis for three years. "When he wanted to get me mad he called me Brezhie, after Brezhnev," she says with a laugh. "He wanted to get married. I didn't feel ready. So he married someone else. It was very hard, but I had to choose tennis."
By the time she is 30, Mandlikova expects to be married and have children, although she doubts her husband will be Czechoslovakian. "It would be very difficult to find a man in Czechoslovakia," she says, "because I would always feel that he married me for money." Despite the $1 million or so a year she pulls down in endorsements and prize money, her only real luxuries are a two-bedroom condo in Florida at Boca West, a gold Rolex watch and a villa in Prague in which her parents live.
Mandlikova avoids friendships on the tour, following Stove's tenet that "there is no love in tennis—only 40-love." Once every couple of months, Mandlikova will find a way to see her family, usually by flying to Prague or by bringing her relatives to Florida. She is particularly delighted when she can spend time with her two nephews, ages six and four.
In more private moments, Mandlikova makes entries in a journal. Slowly but surely she is learning to cook, although she joked about one of her recent efforts at goulash: "We'll see how many get sick." Her newfound good nature is being noticed.
"Hana is acting much friendlier," says Shriver. "A lot of it is just being more comfortable with English, but I also think she is a lot happier. Of course, I have mixed emotions about it. If she gets her act together, then we may as well worry about who's going to come in second, third and fourth."
Mandlikova hopes that perception is accurate. "I think Martina and Evert, they know anytime I play them, I can beat them," she says with typical bluntness. "I think they are always afraid of me...no, not afraid...maybe worried of me." She laughs. "As I said, I am learning the gray."