In a way, this showdown was being played on two levels. On the drawsheet, Evert Lloyd was defending her U.S. title, the most recent of her six. But on a higher plane, the one of posterity, Evert Lloyd was defending more enduring territory. Navratilova's extraordinary record over the last two years—184-7 since she began to take her talent seriously and train hard for the '81 Open—has prompted, in this world of instant superlatives, a rush to ordain her as the greatest ever. And even if Christine Marie Evert Lloyd, a tough little monkey, had to lease out a Grand Slam title here and there, she'd be damned if she would concede any kind of lasting recognition to a contemporary.
Evert Lloyd could defend herself on two fronts. First, simply, she could deny Navratilova the Open, for so long as Navratilova failed to win that, she would, like Borg, forever remain a pretender to all-timeness. Second, Evert Lloyd could let herself speak for her record. One day, for example, she offered that it was a "sensitive" thing for her to discuss, but then, well, ah, the two-handed smile holding a stiletto, "I've had seven great years," while Martina has had but two—"that's really all she's had."
Evert Lloyd also bristled at talk about her alleged tennis anorexia, maintaining that her trimness only made her a better athlete. For her part, Navratilova was stung by continued suggestions, facetious and otherwise, that she is but the tip of some science-fiction iceberg: Team Navratilova and all that. When the New York Daily News snipped that her entourage even numbered a professional dog walker, she snapped how "degrading" the remark was to her friends, and studiously explained that besides herself, the so-called team consisted of only Lieberman, "my inspiration," and Mike Estep, her coach since June. "To think I have put in so much work," she said, "to then be dismissed as some sort of computer whiz, a programmed wonder woman." And she was right, because as Evert Lloyd had history on her side, Navratilova had the present—and no more of a cadre than any top player.
Navratilova won each match at this Open so effortlessly that she had no chance to vent her aggressions, except once, perhaps, when a heckler razzed her doubles partner, Pam Shriver, and Navratilova flipped the loudmouth the bird and told him to get off Shriver's case. Evert Lloyd's road to the finals was only slightly more troublesome, although the prescient would have been tipped off in the semis. There she escaped Jo Durie, a streaky, tall, serve-and-volley English comer who gave Evert Lloyd fits, attacking her deliveries, before succumbing 6-4, 6-4. When Durie came off the court, her coach, Alan Jones, didn't commiserate with the usual British good show. Instead, he announced straight out that she bloody well could have won, which told us all the more that Evert Lloyd was vulnerable to pressure on her serve, and also that Durie may well be a stalwart new force to be reckoned with.
No such fresh talent appeared on Navratilova's flanks. Where are all the challengers—"the girls," as Evert Lloyd always calls this steno pool? Only a couple of years ago the women were crowing about how deep their field was, but now it has become neatly divided into three divisions: Division Navratilova, Division Evert Lloyd and None of the Above. Except for command performances in the Wimbledon semis every year, Billie Jean King has at last succumbed to Mother Time and didn't even enter the Open singles. Evonne Goolagong may be found at home. Hana Mandlikova, put out in the quarters last week by Evert Lloyd, showed her usual flashes of brilliance, which are all the easier to spot against her broad addlepated standard. Tracy Austin, though not yet 21, remains transfixed by injuries and chose to pull out of the Open, as she had Wimbledon, after she had a peek at her draw.
For this she was excoriated by others, notably Andrea Jaeger, who charged that Austin's 11th-hour withdrawal kept Shriver in Jaeger's section of the draw. Shriver, in fact, ended up eliminating Jaeger in a contentious quarterfinal match in which Jaeger's outbursts could have taught McEnroe an epithet or two. Jaeger is, as she says, "eighteen now, and not a kid, even though at heart I am—but you still have to pretend you're an adult." At No. 3 in the world and a Wimbledon finalist this year, she's hardly slumming, but after having arrived on the tour in swaddling clothes, she now appears becalmed and even, says a friend, "talks about college and all that junk."
It's fashionable to rattle on about the loneliness at the top, about how hard it is to stay No. 1, how everybody's shooting at you, how you can only go down, that sort of stuff. Forgotten too often is how much more difficult it is to shoot up near the top—especially when you're a teenager—and be frustrated there. Hard to be No. 1.? Yeah, try being No. 3 or No. 5 when you never ever quite get the roses.
Shriver is another one like that, a finalist at the Open at 16, but now a doddering 21-year-old who usually doesn't get past the quarters. She's bright and engaging, dedicated enough, but overwhelmed, outwomanned in the crucible. "You win one big match," she said after Navratilova had cleaned her clock in the semis, "and that's enough of a taste of winning to keep you going. But there's an arrogance you must have, and only two of them have that."
Martina and Chris?
"Yeah," she said. "Theirs is a taste of arrogance."