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By last summer Navratilova had achieved better emotional balance. When Zina Garrison upset Graf in the Wimbledon semifinals, the final looked to be a cinch for Navratilova. With two days to think about the Saturday match, she seized up and went sleepless. On Friday night, however, Navratilova quieted her nerves, studied her game plan and slept soundly. The next morning Evert, her old rival, wandered into the locker room, and they chatted. Evert, who was doing commentary for NBC, had a handful of cue cards with her. Navratilova asked to read them. On one, Evert had written that Navratilova's weakness was a tendency to get tight in close matches. Navratilova simply nodded in agreement. She then quelled a last, bone-rattling case of the shakes as she went on court, and she defeated Garrison 6-4, 6-1.
Afterward, she climbed into the Centre Court stands and threw herself into the arms of King and Kardon. King now says, "She's done. A year ago she couldn't have coached. Now she can. She learned her craft."
Nonetheless, Navratilova began their training sessions in Chicago playing tentatively on her repaired knees. "No matter how easy it was, it's still an operation, and it makes you nervous," she says of the arthroscopic procedure.
King knows. She had five knee operations. "You wonder if you'll play again," she says. Two things have put Navratilova's mind more at ease: the pleasure of playing without pain for the first time in 3½ years, and the reassurance King gives her. "Billie had her best years after knee operations," says Carillo. "They made her hungrier. I always wondered if she had them intentionally."
In 1968, a doctor sliced open King's right knee and told her it had only two years to live. King played for 15 more. "Two years, right?" she says. "I was finally about to see open tennis. There was this whole new awakening in my sport, and some guy gives me two bloody years. Uh-uh, I said, wait a minute."
King swears her ambition is to be fired. "I don't want to be needed," she says. But Mayotte and Navratilova need her. Being around King is like standing next to a warm motor. She gives off an electric hum of knowledge. "I'm still learning," Navratilova says. "I haven't tapped her dry yet. I may never."
That is because King continues to learn at an alarming rate. She talks endlessly to club pros about teaching techniques. "She fiddles," says Mayotte. King talks wistfully of new medical procedures that would have saved her the knee operations and of new insights into the sport that might have won her more matches. "Oh, God, if I'd had proper footwork I could have been dangerous," she says. She regards players today with a mixture of pride and despair—for the money, privileges and information they have and she didn't. "I'm envious," she says. "But not jealous. The way it is now is the way I wanted it."
The patience to coach and a capacity to enjoy the success of others are uncommon qualities in a past champion. As Navratilova says, "I think my winning Wimbledon was absolutely as close as she could come to winning it again herself."
For a time, though, King did not have such an embracing view of the game. At the height of her athletic and political power in the early to mid-'70s, her convictions could seem intractable. The same drive that made her an able leader sometimes made her overbearing. Righteous anger can be off-putting. So can relentless optimism. So can tantrum-throwing. "People thought I was angry," King says. "I wasn't. I was determined."
Crowds turned against her and she became disillusioned. No sooner had she recovered her perspective than Marilyn Barnett, her former personal assistant, sued her in 1981 over a house they had shared in Malibu and made public their love affair. (Barnett lost the suit, but King has said the episode cost her and her husband, Larry, millions of dollars in business and personal endorsements.) King retired and unretired as a player. She and Larry were divorced. "I trust her," Mayotte says. "She's seen tough times and turned it all around, made it work for her."