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"There were no great athletes for me to contend with," she says. "Evonne never worked hard enough, and Billie Jean admits she wasn't in good shape. Margaret Court was a player and an athlete, that's true, but she lacked the third aspect, the psychological. There are much better athletes now. Tracy is more like me, just a player, but Hana and Andrea are such wonderful athletes. I'm not convinced about Hana yet, though. She can't put players away. She seems more like Evonne. But Andrea seems to have everything—the tennis, the athletic and the psychological."
Navratilova began to press the champion on fast surfaces in the late '70s. Then, more or less simultaneously, came Chris' marriage—which left her too happy to play when John was with her and too sad when he was away—and the ascendancy of Austin. "Your clone," as John McEnroe pegged her to Chris.
In the spring of '79, right after the Lloyds' honeymoon, Austin ended Chris' clay-court streak, and a few months later, at Flushing Meadow, she denied Chris her fifth straight U.S. Open, which would have been a record. By 1980, Austin was thrashing Evert Lloyd at will. She beat her five straight, the last three in straight sets in a space of 10 days. When Evert Lloyd lost yet another final, this time to Navratilova on Jan. 27 in Chicago, Leaird came out to console her. "It doesn't matter," Chris said. "I just don't want to be here."
In February, she quit, 25 years old and burned out. But, to no great surprise, after she lallygagged around with John for a few weeks, the juices started to flow again. By May she was back in the hunt.
Press Conference Question: What did you do all that time when you weren't playing tennis?
Evert Lloyd (long pause, stage leer, excellent timing, loving this): "Well, I'm a married woman now, you know."
She came back with a vengeance, winning the Italian and the French (albeit against lackluster fields) and a grass-court tune-up from Goolagong before nipping Navratilova in the semis at Wimbledon. The showdown with Austin was postponed because Goolagong had eliminated her in the other semi. Then Goolagong upset Chris in the finals, one of only three losses she has suffered in the year she has been back.
Of course, not all the other victories counted as much, even cumulatively, as the semifinal defeat of Austin at Flushing Meadow last year. Nothing came easily at the Open. John had given up his own game after getting whipped in the first round at Wimbledon, and he worked with Chris all summer toward this duel. Then, shortly before she finally could face Austin, Chris got her period. In the quarterfinals, she was lucky to get by Mima Jausovec, a player she normally handles with ease. Only by a matter of hours was she ready for Austin. Finally, then, she said, "I think I can win, John."
But Austin took the first four games, blew Evert Lloyd away as surely as she had in all those matches the previous winter. "Those times I had just quit," Chris says. "I mean mentally, but quit just the same. You see, when Tracy and I play, our styles are so much alike it's really a battle of the mind. And I could have quit again this time, when she had me four-love. But I didn't. I changed my game. I did. I started hitting out more." She was the woman now, and for the first time, too, perhaps the crowd could envision the person hitting the strokes, not just see the strokes themselves. Austin held on to win the first set, 6-4, but after that it was a rout for Evert Lloyd, one and one, and she was first in the world again.
"I've always had one person in my life—one man," she says. "First my father, then Jimmy, now John. That night five years ago, when I won Wimbledon but was still so sad, I was glad for that in a way. I knew for sure at that moment that tennis wasn't the only thing in my life. I don't want tennis to be my only love. I'm a person who has to give."