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"I don't, Nancy. Don't keep making fun. I used to spend a lot more money than I do now. This year I haven't really spent any money at all."
Lieberman is everything Martina is not—practical, frugal and single-minded. She is a gritty, city-bred optimist who, unlike Martina, carries no excess idealistic baggage. But one thing appalls Lieberman. Waste. Waste of money, waste of talent, waste of opportunity. She saw it all in Martina soon after they met a year ago at a tournament at Amelia Island, Fla. She saw Martina lose in the final there to Evert Lloyd 6-0, 6-0. A month later, Lieberman watched her lose again, to Hanika in the quarters of the French, and she couldn't understand it.
"But once I saw her practice habits, I knew why," says Lieberman. "It was poor practice, and there wasn't enough of it. I always felt if I worked my rear end off, even if I weren't shooting well, some other part of my game would hurt you. If Martina wasn't doing something well, her whole game would fall apart. The better conditioned you are, the stronger you are mentally."
So began a conditioning program that has Martina in the best physical shape of her life. She weighs 145 pounds—down from a high of 167 in early 1976—and is especially proud of the fact that she's now a size 10. She's also all muscle. A skin-fold caliper test in December determined that her body fat accounted for just 8.8% of her total weight. Normal for a female tennis player is 12% to 14%.
"It was Nancy who pushed me," says Martina. "She just wouldn't let me sit still. I'd say, 'I can't go on anymore.' I'd start crying, literally, because I was so tired. She knew where my limit was better than I did."
"I only wish somehow we had met years ago at a banquet or something," says Lieberman, "like I met Chris and Tracy. I was as hardheaded then as I am now, so I'm sure we would have been good for each other. She would have won five Wimbledons by now."
Martina and Lieberman have been working out at SMU's Dedman Center since last summer, Martina on the Universal machines, Lieberman with free weights to strengthen her legs. Nancy can do three sets of 10 squats with 210 pounds of iron on her shoulders, but her musculature barely shows. By contrast, Martina's extraordinary definition is evident even in repose. "I can show you pictures of me when I was eight years old," she says. "I was always all muscles."
One of the first places Martina's newfound fitness showed was in ABC's Women Superstars competition at Key Biscayne, Fla., in February. She finished third, behind Anne Meyers, another unemployed basketball player, and Lieberman, who both had trained strenuously for the Superstars. "It was funny," says Pam Shriver, Martina's doubles partner. "In the bicycling event they go twice around the track. Martina was four back, then three back and then all of a sudden about three-quarters of the way around on the second lap everyone else just stopped. That's what it looked like, at least. I mean Martina poured it on. The others were pedaling but nothing was happening."
Connie Spooner, the Women's Tennis Association's head trainer, watched the same event and said to herself, "Oh my God, her legs are just as strong as her upper body. A year ago she was out of shape, she looked kind of haggard and her game was slipping. Now she's probably the best-conditioned player on the circuit, and that's Nancy's influence. She's also much more up now than she was. Last year I saw her moodier than she'd ever been, and I attribute that to the people she was hanging around with. But she bounced back."
What Martina bounced back from was 14 months in the thrall of Rita Mae Brown, now 37, a novelist best known in lesbian literary circles when they met. Martina and Lieberman became friends just as the Brown phase of Martina's life was ending. That was in April 1981. By August, Martina had left the big house in Charlottesville, Va., where she had lived with Brown, and moved into Lieberman's modest town house in Dallas. They share it with a third roommate, Rhonda Rompola, a former teammate of Lieberman's at Old Dominion.