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Whatever, Evert Lloyd now says, "I was obsessed, totally consumed by the relationship. Afterward, I felt I had to start all over again to learn who I was. Then I was so alone and so lonely...and hurt." She grimaces and makes a clenched fist recalling Jimmy. One day recently at Chris' parents' house, she went through the mail and deadpanned to John, "Here, for you." It was a letter for Connors, care of her. They come regularly.
With the departure of Connors from her life began what will surely come to be considered the heart of her career. In this interregnum, when she was at her personal darkest, Evert Lloyd achieved her greatest feats, winning 94% of her matches and 72% of her tournaments. She was safe again, on the baseline.
During these years, there were some ballyhooed romances with the likes of Burt Reynolds and a President's son, Jack Ford, as Chris' schoolgirl dreams of finding a shining knight behind the picket fence next door were fading. She was, in effect, pricing herself out of that neighborhood. While heaven knows we read enough in the women's magazines about the castration anxieties that most men suffer when confronted with a successful female, that syndrome is all the more pronounced where a pretty woman athlete is concerned. Bad enough that the lady is famous and successful, but a heroine and better coordinated to boot—that's just too much. "I found that most men couldn't handle it, what I am," Evert Lloyd says, "and that only made me more uncomfortable."
It's revealing that, when Evert Lloyd's female friends speak of John, they invariably salute him foremost for his ability to subordinate himself without fretting that his masculinity is being undercut. "John even likes being in a supportive role," says King, "and that's important because Chris loves being No. 1. She loves being a superstar. Maybe she won't admit that to the world, but we've talked about it."
As soft and as pink as Evert Lloyd is, there's that hard blue vein that runs through her character. She shouldn't be surprised that the public discerned this, no matter how much she gussied herself up in ribbons and ruffles. The Ice Lolly is how the British first dubbed her—their term for Popsicle—and that was the most apt nickname, no matter what variations on the theme followed.
You see, the truth is that what was visible was accurate. There never was a tip of the iceberg with Chris Evert on the court; she won precisely because she was the underside of the iceberg, colder and harder than anyone suspected. Everything was poured into the game—but more out of addiction than affection, and that showed, too. "I wouldn't even call a friend on the day of a match," she says. "I'd be scared of disrupting my concentration. I couldn't allow any competition with tennis." She holds up her forefinger—No. 1—and continues, "Tennis was the foundation and security in my life, and I didn't dare risk losing it."
This attitude fed on itself. The more she dedicated herself to the sport, the more she used her success on the court as a gift to the people she loved, the harder it became for her to believe that any of the rest of her could be of value to them. She feared what the public might imagine about her—the mannish jock—and she couldn't understand that because fans didn't cotton to her repetitious kind of play didn't mean they despised her.
Yet it's also true that Evert Lloyd, as champion, never engendered the devotion that King attracted. Chrissie could never dare to abandon, symbolically, the sanctuary of the baseline and risk evoking that visceral kind of love (or hate) that was King's. But the fact is that Chris was very popular as a ponytailed prodigy, and this affection is returning as she's becoming more vulnerable as an older player. Especially with men she wasn't and isn't so threatening as a child or a grand dame (in tennis years) as she was at the peak of her athletic life, when she exhibited that kind of coolness and steadfastness that males do not like to think reside in the fairer sex. And that she was a sweet Catholic Sunbelt all-American girl, packaged in frills, only frightened them all the more. It wasn't so much that they couldn't imagine the Ice Lolly sweating; they couldn't imagine her menstruating.
Yet even as Evert Lloyd piled up victories, she found more acceptance among her colleagues. It was the other players who first let the tennis world know that the kid was O.K., that she had an exceptional sense of humor and that she really wasn't perfect. You should hear what naughty words can tumble from Miss American Pie's mouth after a bad call. In 1975 Evert Lloyd succeeded King as the elected president of the WTA, and the jealousy and suspicion gave way to respect and fondness.
That helped, but the life of a traveling female athlete is much more difficult than the merely inconvenient one that male athletes must endure on the road. This is the first era in which large numbers of working women travel, and in an unusual profession like sports, where they journey in bunches, there's a natural tendency to circle the wagons. "It becomes like a family," says Casals. "No matter how well people may know you back home, they can't imagine what it's really like for you on the road, and so we tend to relate more and more to each other." Whether you're the No. 1 or the No. 100 player, establishing any sort of lasting friendships outside the traveling group is difficult, and in this weary vacuum of loneliness, sexual predators—of both genders—are on the prowl. There are many cases of female athletes who marry quickly, almost in desperation, after a brief time on the circuit. Of course, rarely do these marriages last, for the husband was chosen not so much to be a man as a talisman.