Ultimately, it all comes down to this: when Chrissie won Wimbledon in 1976, beat Evonne 8-6 in the third, she went back to her hotel room and soon, very soon, minutes later, all the joy was drained. She slumped there, hurt and melancholy, because she had no one she loved to take her to the Wimbledon ball. "All I kept thinking," she says, "was that I'd achieved everything, but it meant nothing because I had no one to share it with."
There is an old French expression that goes, "An actress is more than a woman, but an actor is less than a man." Conversely, even now in the all-American world of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a male is considered more of a man if he's an athlete, but a woman athlete is perceived to be less of a female. The really extraordinary accomplishment of Christine Marie Evert Lloyd is that she has risen to such heights in the face of the self-consciousness engendered by that thinking. Would that she had actually trusted in herself! Not until last year, after almost a decade of playing at or very near the top of her sport, did she ever allow herself to be tested "as far as my guts are concerned," did she ever dare play for Chris and not for some man she loved. "That was the first time I ever reached down inside of me—me," she says.
Now, at last, she's safely settled: Mrs. Lloyd, not only an old married woman but married to the most attractive of men as well, one so fair that schoolgirls flock after him, and his male friends, in grudging admiration, call him Flossie for his golden locks. Why, no man's centerfold could be so impressive, no man's.
Evert Lloyd is 26 years old, complete, in the fullness of life. Already she has won five U.S. Opens, four French championships, two Wimbledons, 104 tournaments all told. Once she won 56 matches in a row and 125 straight on clay. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Sportswoman of the Year in 1976. Four times Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. And now she's also finally pleased with herself. She feels like a million dollars. And she's down to 115 pounds from a high of 135 in 1978. She looks like a million dollars. Why, just imagine what the lady could do if she could only volley.
In women's tennis, as much as in any sport, a player's temperament is revealed by her style of play. Men, except perhaps on clay, are expected to attack, but so many women aren't strong enough to rule from the net that they all pretty much have the license to choose a style that best fits their personality. Billie Jean King is the classic example, ever on the move, forward, on the court as well as in life. The whimsical Evonne Goolagong goes with the wind, trying whatever strikes her fancy. Chris stays back, playing it safe.
Get the ball back. So she was instructed by her father, Jimmy Evert, and so she continues to do. It's a maddening style of play, frustrating for the opponent, tedious for the spectator. Most practitioners of the baseline game play it out of fear and lack of talent. Consider this observation from the 1968 memoirs of Al Laney, one of two writers in the tennis Hall of Fame:
"They were preceded by two girls whose names have long since escaped me, but whose performance I have seen repeated over and over these many years on courts fast and slow, grass, clay and cement, in many countries. They played an interminable match, and as I watched I learned for the first time that tennis can be boring. There was something prophetic in this, for it was to be my lot for many years to watch and write about this sort of thing, the purposeless hitting up and down the court by two girls, neither able to win when the chance comes, both forced to go on and on until one or the other finally loses."
The operative word here is purposeless; what distinguishes Evert Lloyd from the bulk of her breed is that she has always gotten the ball back, with both a scheme and success in mind. Yet it takes a somewhat sophisticated eye to appreciate this, and even then it doesn't necessarily follow that the witness will be enthralled. Evert Lloyd understands her lyrical failing. Still, she says, "I think people should have acknowledged more of my attributes—my strength, my determination, my ability to react to pressure."
And, perhaps above all, her facility for sticking with it. After 20 years of tennis, she has had few lapses from her pattern of play. Other players notice that Tracy Austin, who is programmed for the same waiting game, has already begun to grow impatient with it, and she's only 18. "What Chris has managed is quite incredible," says Ted Tinling, the tennis fashion designer and majordomo of the women's tour. "A woman champion is hard-pressed to survive more than six years. They start so young and then suddenly they realize that to lose a set isn't world news, so they begin to think about it out there. I remember watching Helen Wills in some obscure quarterfinal. She got into a long rally, and it was so apparent. I just sighed to myself, 'I'm sorry, Helen, it's all done now. You're over the hill.' And this was so."
Evert Lloyd has endured at the baseline for two reasons. One is technical: she plays best there. To be fair, this isn't to say that sameness constitutes stagnation. She moves with more facility now, has an improved overhead and serve (how proud she is of that) and plays more intelligently and offensively. The other reason is psychological: she's incapable of rushing the net.