King stresses the three R's: rehearsal, ritual and (endless) repetition. For every shot she creates an important scenario. "O.K., match point, Wimbledon, there's the Royal Box," she calls out, pointing to a vent on the wall. Every mistake requires an explanation from the offender.
Navratilova has shoveled an easy forehand into the net and skulked over to a corner, thinking she won't have to account for it, when King's voice seizes her by the neck. "Hold it," says King. "What happened? Tell me. Show me—now!"
"I was busy admiring my [service] return," Navratilova says.
After another careless error, King strides onto the court waving her arms and says, "Hold it. O.K., she's not getting it. Back to baby stuff." She draws Mayotte, Kardon and Navratilova to the service line, where they dink forehands back and forth until Navratilova irons out her stroke.
Later a Mayotte shot strikes the tape. King whirls. "What's the deal on the low backhand volley?" she says. In a few moments another backhand volley smacks the net. "I simply cannot stand to watch you hit that," King says.
She turns to the rest of the class and asks if anyone can tell her what Mayotte, the new student, is doing wrong. Navratilova, the valedictorian, suggests he is leading with his body instead of his racket, and King nods that she is correct. A few minutes and several staccato Navratilova volleys later, King halts play and turns to Mayotte. "See that?" says King. "She learned well. She knows if she's out of position, I'll kill her. Dead meat."
King's inquisitive nature makes her unafraid to experiment. She is revamping the serves of both Mayotte and Navratilova. That entails returning two of the game's most powerful servers to comically simple exercises. Every afternoon in Chicago they stand at the baseline, wrists cocked, and puff serves into the box. "Toilet training," Mayotte says as Navratilova, Kardon and King collapse in laughter.
King's goal is to make Navratilova's and Mayotte's serves more consistent and 10 to 15 mph faster. To get Navratilova to transfer her power into her arm at the right moment, turning the arm into a whip, King has changed the way Navratilova raises her racket, turns her torso and swings at the ball. Now she swings with her elbow leading, the way a pitcher or quarterback throws. "I want them both to rotate up and into the ball," King says.
"So we're back in school," Navratilova says. "We're willing to do it because we know it will work."
It is too soon for a prognosis on Mayotte, who continues to suffer the early-round losses that plagued him last year. But after working with King in Chicago, he at least has demonstrated a new crispness, according to Jeff Arons. Navratilova is not easy to assess, either. She squealed with the pleasure of a small child when she discovered that she could bend her new knees for a low ball without groaning, but now she must cope in tournaments with the steady encroachment of larger, faster children. Just recently Navratilova was overtaken in the rankings by 20-year-old Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, who moved up to No. 3 in the world.