The two players present vastly different challenges and temperaments to King. Coaching Navratilova in the physical elements of tennis is a little like telling Carl Lewis how to sprint. Mayotte is something else entirely. A talented yet limited serve-and-volley player, Mayotte moved in and out of the Top 10 for four years, reaching his career high of No. 7 in 1988.
Two years ago, Navratilova was a burned-out champion. However, since she began working with King in May 1989, she has acquired a new self-possession and a new grasp of her game, not to mention a record ninth Wimbledon singles title, which she won last summer. Now, after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both knees in November, she seeks to move up in the rankings from her current No. 4 spot.
Mayotte is a five-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist but has reached the semis just once, in 1982. He has never made the final of a Grand Slam event. He went to King last year with a deteriorating serve. Jimmy Connors is thought to have been the only other high-ranking U.S. male pro to have had a woman coach. "I don't think it's that big a deal," says Mayotte. "It's just Billie continuing to break barriers."
King lives in a sparsely furnished apartment in a glassy Chicago high-rise and in a similar apartment on the West Side of Manhattan, with a lot of suitcases and psychology books. There is no sign in either place of her 24-year playing career, during which she was ranked No. 1 five times. She's not sure where some of her trophies are, and she doesn't seem to care. "They're around," she says. "That's not what I'm into. I remember what I did."
The few photos on her walls are of friends—laughs, not past glories. She is too occupied with her announcing duties for HBO, coaching Navratilova and Mayotte, speaking engagements, a fancy to get into television and film production, a new chain of play schools called the Discovery Zone that promote and study exercise for children under 12, and her longest-standing project, Team Tennis, which represents her most fervid interest: to take the sport out of elite clubs and bring it to the masses. "It's a lonely life in some ways," King says. "Sometimes I think it would be nice if my ideas were accepted all the time."
King's ideas receive varying degrees of acceptance, because they tend to be a few years ahead of their time. "Try 10 or 20," she says, laughing. A fireman's daughter from Long Beach, Calif., she was a significant force in opening tennis to professionalism in the late 1960s. She carried a deep sense of injustice from her days as an amateur player, when she was forced to get by on $100 a week as a playground instructor and college student at the same time that she was making the Wimbledon finals. In 1970, King helped invent the women's pro tour. In '73 she invented the players' union, now called the Women's Tennis Association. "You know all that sports psychology stuff?" adds television commentator and former tour player Mary Carillo. "Well, she invented that, too."
All the while King was winning a total of 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed-doubles crowns. Though she led the crusade for bigger prize money in women's tennis, she did not get rich—at least not by the standards of today's players. Considerable sums have come and gone with her changing fortunes and popularity. "Money is opportunity," she says with a shrug. "And security. I've got some. I'd like more. Most of my ideas cost money."
In 1990, LIFE magazine named her one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century." Only three other athletes—Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali—made the list. "And I haven't even started yet," King says over lunch with Navratilova.
Navratilova leans across the table. "Billie, I have news for you," she says. "You have already started. Trust me. You've started."
At the Mid-Town Tennis Club, Mayotte chases down a series of volleys punched at him by Navratilova and Kardon. "Excellent," King says.