"I think I want you to coach me," he said.
"I only work with people I like," replied King. "I don't really know you. So first of all I'd have to get to know you."
"O.K.," Mayotte said.
"And I'll never help you," King continued, "unless you'd be willing to completely change your serve."
They moved the conversation to a nearby table. It was the first of many talks that would extend through the summer before King agreed to take on Mayotte. King's curt assessment of his game and her pointed questions did not offend Mayotte, they relieved him. They also confused him.
"What's your point of contact on your backhand?" King asked. "What are you thinking on the toss for your second serve?"
Said Mayotte later, "I didn't have the answer to any of those questions. I'm saying, Hey, I just hit the ball."
Mayotte had been seeking a new coach for two years. A native of Springfield, Mass., he had spent five years under Bill Drake of Boston when he suddenly confronted the fact that he was approaching 30 and had never moved beyond a certain level. Mayotte talked to a series of coaches and listened to their conflicting advice with mounting frustration. "So many people I spoke to were so vague," he says. " 'Get to the net more. Serve bigger.' And I'm saying, 'How do I do that?' Billie Jean takes the mystery out of it for me. She takes the theory and gets it done in reality. She says, 'Well, that's just great, but if you can't get it done on the court, it's all bull——.' "
That their partnership was greeted with skepticism by the press and the tennis world amused both King and Mayotte. Soviet men such as Andrei Chesnokov and Alexander Volkov have been coached by a woman. Volkov saw King at a recent tournament. "I have woman coach, too," he said proudly.
"Look, I don't think gender should enter into it," says King. "But if you're going to argue, why shouldn't women make good coaches? We were brought up to listen, to nurture, to observe."