King congratulates Mayotte for his discernment and for no small amount of guts, but not for choosing her. Rather, she praises him for his willingness to change his game at this late stage. "He's 30 years old now. It's not like he's got nothing to lose," she says.
Mayotte credits King with two immediate improvements: in his large, tattered, fault-prone serve and in his attitude. "I'm too serious," he says. King badgers him to let go. She has told him she does not care if he misses, as long as he swings aggressively. "He needs more random," she says. "He thinks everything—life—is supposed to be all perfect."
She sings him a refrain from the song Release Me. She tries to loosen his stiff, self-conscious service motion by making him catch balls almost as fast as she can pitch them and then whirl and serve them unthinkingly. "She's so smart and so tough, yet so soft and so encouraging and so theoretical and so practical," Mayotte says. "Billie knows how to break down the elements. She knows there's a core process to getting anything done, and she applies it over and over again. She makes you believe."
One afternoon at the Mid-Town Club, a perfectly executed serve and a twisting volley incite Mayotte into an Elvis-like swing of his fist and a slow grind, to whoops from King, Kardon and Navratilova. "Project," King urges him. "Be the artiste. Be mean. Strut."
Then, the next morning, the player nicknamed Gentleman Tim slams his racket on the court without apology and with a gratifying crack, turning its elegant frame into something that looks like a car wreck. "Yes!" King exults. "He did it. Finally."
King saunters over and hands Mayotte a five-dollar bill.
Navratilova sits on a bench, staring contemplatively at nothing. King looks at her for a moment before walking over and taking. Navratilova's face in her hands. She shakes Navratilova's head from side to side. "We don't want this," King says. "We don't want 'No.' "
She nods Navratilova's head up and down. "We want this," she says. "We want 'Yes."
In September 1975, in the middle of the U.S. Open, a teenager with an 11-letter surname told four people—her business manager and three fellow players—of her plan to defect from Czechoslovakia the following day. King did not sleep well with the knowledge of what Navratilova intended to do. Nor did Rosie Casals or Chris Evert.
That is just a small part of what King shares with her protégée and onetime rival. At a tournament in Detroit in 1974, one year after they first met, King paused to watch Navratilova practice and, uninvited, began correcting her forehand volley. As King's Wimbledon doubles partner in 1979, Navratilova helped her to a record 20th All England title. On the last point of their come-from-behind three-set victory over Betty Stove and Wendy Turnbull in the finals, Navratilova let out a shriek more joyous than the one she had emitted in winning the singles the day before. King is now urging Navratilova, who has 17 Wimbledon titles, to break the record. "Which I find unbelievable," Navratilova says.