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It says something about how much the American women wanted to win the Wightman Cup matches against Great Britain last week that Chris Evert Lloyd put her antibiotics aside and climbed out of a sickbed to play. After all, the most she could win was a, for her, trifling $4,285. And player-coach Rosie Casals acted as if she were coaching football at Ohio State. Grim and determined, she closed practice sessions to the public, scheduled chalk talks and for days kept everybody guessing about her starting lineup. The U.S. women let it be known they were playing for keeps as well as for their country.
The meaning of the Wightman Cup varies with the side of the Atlantic on which you are ordering your fish and chips. The Americans fear losing more than they relish winning. The British, on the other hand, relish winning very much indeed. Last year, when they upset the U.S. in London, the whistling, foot-stamping and flag-waving natives behaved as if they had just crowned a new monarch.
When the two teams met last week at the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club for the 51st Cup matches, Casals unsmilingly said, "We're shooting for 7-0." Said one of her teammates, "Rosie thinks she's a little Napoleon."
The Wightman Cup was inaugurated in 1923, and in the early going it seemed a splendid idea. Through the first eight meetings the competition was dead even at four wins apiece. Then the U.S. won 21 straight matches, and it seemed like an idea whose time was past.
But the British dauntlessly played on. And their perseverance has paid off with three victories in the past five years.
Thinking about the possibility of losing again—and at home—didn't help the Americans' composure early last week, nor did the news that Lloyd might not play because tonsillitis had put her in bed for three days. Everyone on the U.S. team seemed relieved when she arrived on Tuesday, saying that while she felt weak, she was ready to practice. "The Wightman Cup means a lot to me," she said. "If there were a $200,000 tournament somewhere this week, I'd play here."
With Lloyd and familiar turf on its side, the U.S. team, which included Casals, Tracy Austin, Kathy Jordan and Ann Kiyomura, had reason to feel confident instead of wary. In 14 previous Wightman Cup singles matches, Lloyd hadn't lost; in fact, she had dropped only two sets. Even in last year's 4-3 debacle she held up her end by allowing the top British pair, Sue Barker and Virginia Wade, to win a total of only four games.
Just as significantly, this year's Wightman was being played on clay, which the Americans favor. Over the years the British have only beaten the U.S. twice over here, and their players grimace at the mention of clay courts. "It's their option to name the surface and they'd be foolish to pick anything else," said Wade.
The format was to be five singles and two doubles matches spread over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Casals posted men with walkie-talkies to shoo off onlookers from secret practice sessions at which she was trying to find the best doubles combinations.
But while Wightman tennis is always serious, off the court the week can be one big pajama party. On Wednesday night the U.S. players decided to celebrate Halloween. They put on masks and, accompanied by Midnight, Casals' dog, which wore a scarf and a blinking disco collar, they roamed through the community of Wellington outside the club grounds. Said team trainer Connie Spooner, "Everybody went disguised as something, except for Midnight. He went disguised as a dog." The players selected trick-or-treat targets according to the splendor of the cars in the driveways, and discovered that even among the Rolls-Royces, times seem to be hard. "Gee," said Lloyd, looking down into her bag of goodies. "When I was a little kid they gave you candy bars. Now you get a piece of bubble gum—and it's sugarless."