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The numbers that were supposed to have come up in Australia were seven and 76. But because of a kid named Helena Sukova, 11 and 16 turned up instead. In the end, Chris Evert Lloyd had completed yet another year with at least one Grand Slam title, and Martina Navratilova had gone another year without winning all the Grand Slam championships. History sighed under the heavy load of legends.
Navratilova had come to the Australian Open in Melbourne, to the hard-packed grass of Kooyong, as the cynosure of the tennis world, seeking to become only the fifth player to win the Grand Slam, which has become known as the Calendar Slam. This devaluation follows a 1982 bull from the International Tennis Federation. In place of the traditional Slam, it created the Cash Slam, complete with $1 million for anyone winning the four majors ( Wimbledon and the U.S., French and Australian opens) consecutively, even if the victories are spread over two years. This is rather like decreeing that a player could break Roger Maris's home-run record by hitting 31 homers after the All-Star break one season and 31 before it the next.
Navratilova, of course, won a 1983-84 Cash Slam in June in Paris, but among the many people in tennis who don't accept the nouveau tradition is one Mr. John McEnroe. Bothered by a sore wrist, he pulled out of the Australian to rest for the Davis Cup final that starts on Sunday in Sweden. The injury, however, isn't disabling, and he could have played at Kooyong, going for his third straight major title. That way he might have been in position to win a Cash Slam in Paris in '85. But McClassicist firmly believes that the only Grand Slams are Calendar Slams. Whatever, McEnroe's cancellation removed all interest in the male half of the tournament—SUCH A YAWN, one headline said of the men's competition—which was won by one of those blond, two-handed-hitting Swedes who had somehow taken a detour on his way to PGA central casting.
That all the attention was devoted to the distaff side was somewhat ironic, too, because Australia has never been spotted in the forefront of the march for women's liberation. There are two genders Down Under: mates and sheilas. Mates are the people you have some beers with; sheilas are the things you ring up after a few beers with the mates. But this one time, the sheilas were all the show. If Navratilova triumphed, she would be the first player to win seven consecutive majors, and she would extend her modern record for consecutive match victories to 76. Moreover, if Evert Lloyd could win three matches, she would reach a thousand victories. And this she did, despite being so nervous that she forgot to bring any tennis panties to Kooyong. When she was presented with a cake bearing a thousand lighted candles, the flames leaped so high they threatened to engulf the entire hospitality tent, until a quick-thinking waiter tossed a wet towel over the inferno.
Although Navratilova had lost but once in the past 18 months—on Jan. 15 to Hana Mandlikova—there was a growing feeling on the tour that she was ripe for the taking, that the sheer weight of numbers pressed on her. "For months now, Martina's been playing not to lose, rather than to win," said Don Candy, Pam Shriver's coach. Navratilova's volleys had become more jabs than punches, her attacking slice backhand short and choppy. Also, since she'd started working on a new high-kick serve late last year, her wide and wonderful lefty delivery into the ad court often seemed to have been missing in action.
Only in doubles, where Navratilova's numbers are every bit as impressive but where onlookers don't count out loud, did her game remain in full flower. At Kooyong, not only would she and Shriver become the first women's team ever to win a Calendar Slam, but they also would win their seventh straight Grand Slam championship and an unprecedented 83rd match in a row.
While no one disputed that Evert Lloyd remained the second-best woman player, conventional wisdom held that the streak would be ended by someone who could give Navratilova, who had beaten Evert Lloyd 13 straight times, a taste of her own medicine, someone who could press her at the net. Navratilova was lucky, then, because three possible streak breakers who didn't play the Open are all serve-and-volleyers: Mandlikova, Kathy Jordan and Shriver, although the latter's body was flown to Melbourne and periodically put on display.
Certainly, no one imagined that Sukova—19 years old, 12th in the rankings—would be the instrument of defeat, for she was still more pedigree than performance. Her late mother, Vera Sukova, who in 1962 beat Maria Bueno to reach the Wimbledon final, became the patroness saint of Czech tennis, coach of the junior squad that a certain young Miss Navratilova starred on. Further, Helena's father, Cyril Suk (the ova is a Czech suffix denoting female gender; Martina's father is Mr. Navratil, Hana's is Mr. Mandlik, and so on), is president of the Czech Tennis Federation.
If Helena is spiritually her mother's child, she grew to resemble her angular father; at 6'1�" she's much taller and slimmer than her mother was. Vera won with her mind. "One of the truly great tennis brains, incredibly shrewd," says Judy Tegart Dalton, who was one of her rivals. It was Vera who encouraged the Czechs (and the Soviets) to follow Margaret Court about and film her serve-and-volley style. Before Vera died of brain cancer in the spring of 1982, she'd been instrumental in making her small country a tennis force and her daughter the best junior player in the world.
At that time Helena was pane-thin and painfully shy. Only recently has she filled out into a woman, and only in the last couple of months has she literally begun to walk tall, shoulders back, unashamed of her height, smiling and secure. With her new coach, Jan Kurz, Helena has reined in her looping Lendl-like forehand and made a dagger out of her snappy backhand. Now, suddenly transformed from a parochial Continental baseliner, she's at her best on alien grass (16-4 for 1984), and her worst surface is native clay (6-6). She won her first pro tournament on the turf in Brisbane, Australia in November, and after beating the injured and disconsolate No. 3 seed Shriver in the quarters at Kooyong, Vera Sukova's only daughter was who stood in the way of what could have been the 75th straight win for Vera Sukova's biggest star.