King is interested in results, but what interests her the most is "the process." Navratilova and Mayotte may not come to understand everything about themselves and their games, but they'll understand "more than they used to," she says. Sometimes King will talk for 45 minutes without a ball being struck. "It can be pretty intellectual stuff," Navratilova says. "Your body is fine; it's your brain that's on fire."
At times King can sound more confusing than enlightening. "Practice equals spontaneity," King tells Mayotte, meaning that if you rehearse something enough, you can perform it more freely. She love; buzzwords. "They're that tools that help players visualize what they have to do," says King.
Some of her phrase; sound like silly pop psych "Martina prefers thinking 'Play in the now,' and Tim prefers 'Play in the present,' " she says. Other phrases are intriguing "Marry the ball" (stay) with the ball at all costs) "Hit with purpose" (have a shot in mind and execute it); "Even if you don't mean it, act it."
Says King, "You have to stay in the moment. I always knew when I was going to play a great match because I woke up in the morning feeling everything. I was so alert. I could feel the water in my hair in the shower. I would pick up my tennis racket thinking of nothing but picking up my racket."
Strategically, King provides startlingly clear direction. Her overall philosophy for these players is simple: When in doubt, attack. "Any time there is the slightest choice, you should be at the net hitting a volley," she says. That simplicity is invaluable to a couple of bright people who can lapse into mental mopes. Mayotte's and Navratilova's style of play requires that they never hesitate, yet they do. Mayotte is afraid to miss. Mentally, Navratilova falls back on the defensive, allowing opponents to impress their games on her. King rails at them to hit out, even if they're on the defensive. "Tennis is the ultimate in violent activity played against a tranquil backdrop," she likes to say.
She has brought a similar sense of perspective to other players. In the case of Jennifer Capriati, now 15, with whom King worked briefly two years ago in the U.S. Tennis Association's player-development program, King asked a single clarifying question: "Why are you playing tennis?"
"Because it's fun," Capriati replied instantly. "That was the right answer," says King. The wrong one would have been because her parents wanted her to, or for the money. Next, King told Capriati to take out pencil and paper, and then proceeded to give her a lesson in the ruthless geometry of tennis.
Sometimes what King provides is an overall plan, the comforting sense of an objective. Navratilova and Mayotte are her first official adult world-class pupils, but Carillo was a more typical recipient of King's everyday impromptu coaching. They met when Carillo was a 19-year-old fledgling pro from Douglaston, N.Y. They were frequent practice partners until Carillo's third knee injury forced her to retire at age 23. After undergoing surgery following the second of those injuries, Carillo was laid up in the orthopedic ward of a New York hospital when King burst through the doors and, in Carillo's words, "demanded that I restore my health at once." King then turned to a small boy whose legs were clamped in a frightening set of braces. She regarded them briefly and said, "So, they're getting your feet organized for you, huh?" The boy thought for a moment and, pleased, said, "Yes."
There remains a holistic cast to King's thinking, a conviction that with a little organization and energy, any ill can be cured. At first she kept journals on her players, notations jotted down in old-fashioned pasteboard notebooks. She requires that Navratilova and Mayotte keep diaries. Originally, they were places where the two players jotted down reminders of tactics and keys to their swings, but the diaries evolved into extremely personal documents that Navratilova and Mayotte both refer to in hushed tones as "my book."
King gave them leatherbound, gilt-edged volumes, in which they write with expensive fountain pens. She insists that each day they record their ambitions—in the past tense. "So it becomes a self-fufilling prophecy," she says. Every morning and afternoon they dutifully write, "I won Wimbledon in 1991." As Navratilova says cheerfully, "Hey, it worked last year."