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"All right," says Yulia, throwing up her hands. "Still, here theft is rare." That's because, except for windshield wipers, there's nothing to steal.
Although the Maleevas have hauled in more than $3 million in prize money, their parents have lived in the same apartment house for 20 years. "Everything is distributed by the government," says Yulia. "We are lucky even to have this place."
The concrete building is as solemn and sturdy as Lenin's tomb. When the Maleeva women returned from a recent trip abroad, they dined on grilled cheese sandwiches made with feta that George had hoarded. An electronics professor at the University of Sofia, he makes the equivalent of $50 a month, about average for a Bulgarian worker.
Manuela moved to Switzerland three years ago, after marrying François, a Swiss tennis coach. He has been remaking her game ever since. "Yulia taught her to go for every point and to run every ball down," he says. "Manuela, who is a very obedient girl, did."
That strategy worked well five years ago, when Manuela reached No. 3 on the computer. However, against today's stronger and more aggressive players, you can't just put the ball in play and expect to win. François's model was Mats Wilander, a baseliner who forced himself to serve and volley. "Here was a guy who became Number 1 in the world with absolutely no strokes," says François. "His game was built on will, concentration and work. Everything was in the head."
The six-hour-a-day conditioning program François devised for Manuela is so rigorous that a lot of decathletes wouldn't want to attempt it. The new, improved Manuela glides over the court with a hushed and practiced bustle. Against journeywoman Jo Durie at an exhibition this fall in the Canary Islands, she grey-hounded to the net at every opportunity, cutting loose with dapper bursts of exuberance. Leading 6-0, 5-0 at match point, she got reckless, daring Durie to try a crosscourt passing shot. Durie did, winning the point and eventually the game. The crowd cheered wildly. Even Manuela cracked a smile. "I almost didn't want to beat Jo love-love," she later said. "I know the feeling."
Navratilova bageled Manuela in the quarterfinals of the 1989 U.S. Open. They met again this year in the round of 16. Down match point, Navratilova hit a forehand that struck the tape. The ball straddled the net for a tantalizing moment before dropping back on Navratilova's side. Gaping in disbelief, Manuela jumped four times, pumped her fists in the air and broke into a face-splitting grin. "I thought, It's not possible," says Manuela, who lost all eight of her previous matches to Navratilova. "For once, a Bulgarian needs a little bit of luck and gets it."
Bulgaria will need more than luck to survive its current crisis. Thousands of the Maleevas' countrymen have fled the borders since travel restrictions were eased last year. "This prison has been closed for so long that they could not wait to see the world," says Yulia. "People are more free to speak. But the economy is a disaster. If this lasts a few more months, there will be no more human life."
The Maleevas support the Union of Democratic Forces, the main opposition group to the governing Bulgarian Socialist Party. Before the elections in June, Katerina played an exhibition in Sofia to raise funds for the Union. She and Yulia were upbraided by officials in the sports ministry, who accused them of mixing athletics and politics. "Don't accuse us," snapped Yulia. "You're the ones who put Communist patches on the warmup suits we wore at the last Summer Olympics."
On this cold, dank day, the patch is missing from Yulia's Olympic jacket. "I ripped it off," she says gleefully. She's standing in Sofia's Lenin Square, surrounded by heavy, steepled buildings. Down the street is the headquarters of the ruling Socialist Party, gutted in August by a mysterious fire.