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Love and Love
Frank Deford
April 27, 1981
Since her triumphant return to tennis last year, Chris Evert Lloyd, spouse and superstar, has relished life and her game as never before
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April 27, 1981

Love And Love

Since her triumphant return to tennis last year, Chris Evert Lloyd, spouse and superstar, has relished life and her game as never before

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Oh, this doesn't mean that never ever will Evert Lloyd venture forward on some fast surface. Other players, after all, force her up with drop shots, and she has learned to volley quite well in practice. "Look at her, coming in there," says her husband, John. "See? Not bad. But she just has no instincts for it, and she's literally scared to do that in matches. Genuinely frightened."

A couple of years ago, before Evert Lloyd's opening match at Wimbledon, against some hopelessly outclassed opponent, a few players offered to give her $100 if she would serve-and-volley the first point. One point. She really wanted to do it—she laughs at this inhibition—but she simply couldn't. But why? One lousy point. "I thought, 'Suppose I get my feet all tangled up and fall on my face,' " the world's best woman player says, quite earnestly.

She even has a recurring nightmare: she is on Wimbledon Centre Court and comes in to hit an easy volley. She misses it altogether, and the fans—leering, hideous Diane Arbus faces—hoot and laugh at her. "I guess that's what happens to you when you spend the first 12 years working on your ground strokes," she says with a shrug.

But it's not only that the baseline has been her tactical theater of operations. Oh, no, it's so much more than that. Foremost, perhaps, the baseline has been a refuge. Back there she's insulated; it's only the ball and her. She wasn't soiling her femininity playing some sport. Instead, as in all the movie and fashion magazines she devoured, she could be her own actress in some drama, a model on a runway. "I never felt at all like an athlete," she says. "I was just someone who played tennis matches. I still thought of women athletes as freaks, and I used to hate myself, thinking I must not be a whole woman. The nail polish, the ruffles on my bloomers, the hair ribbons, not wearing socks—all of that was very important to me, to compensate. I would not be the stereotyped jock. I remember saying once that I would never fall down for a point, and Rosie Casals and some of the others laughed at me. I just didn't know where I fit in at all."

Her friend Ana Leaird, a Women's Tennis Association official who has known Evert Lloyd since they both attended St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, remembers trying to compliment her once. "I said, 'Oh, Chris, you're moving so well; you're building up your muscles nicely.'

"And she screamed back at me, 'No, no, Ana, don't tell me that!' "

What rare defeats Evert Lloyd suffered didn't upset her, but once, after a press conference, she dissolved into tears because no one had noticed that, she had lost five pounds. At 17, her first complaint about fame—facetious, but revealing—was, "Well, it would be nice if some writer would get around to describing me as sexy." The next year, she declared outright, "I don't ever want to be the breadwinner of my family. Too long a tennis career can ruin a girl and harden her."

Now she says, "I never felt that much emotion out there. I had no ambition. My father was the incentive." She would rush to call him after every match, and all decisions were deferred to him. Only in the last few months has she taken on a professional business manager.

And so. Evert Lloyd stayed back, returning balls. Too close to the net would be too personal, too involved with the jock on the other side of the court. She was only playing against herself, literally going through the motions her father had taught her so well. That she mastered these mechanics and became one of the greatest champions of all time was almost incidental. Not till she quit the sport in despair last year, came back three months later and then played with so much guts against Austin at the U.S. Open, did she ever really beat anybody.

"Are you fearless enough to deal with Tracy?" Neil Amdur, who is collaborating with Evert Lloyd on her forthcoming autobiography, asked her at the beginning of the Open. She winced—"It was a funny word, fearless, but he hit it right on the head"—and lied that she surely was. But it wasn't until 10 days later, just before meeting Austin in the semis, that, she says, "I knew I had the guts to stay out there with her and beat her. I told John, 'Yes, now I think I can win.' You know, that's the only time I ever said that."

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