They were brought together again as a team by Kardon, who was at his wits' end with Navratilova. She had suffered several losses to lesser players, she had not won a Grand Slam championship in nearly two years, and teenager Steffi Graf had long since seized her No. 1 ranking. Navratilova was not listening to Kardon, a mild-mannered 29-year-old former player for the University of Texas with whom she had worked for several months. She was toying with retiring. Finally, Kardon called King, suspecting that she was the one person who could talk forthrightly to Navratilova.
"Why are you playing?" King asked her. "Why are you still here? What do you want?"
"I don't know," Navratilova said.
"Go away for a while," King said.
When Navratilova returned from a week's vacation, she and King set to work on a new ambition: Navratilova had decided she desperately wanted that ninth Wimbledon singles crown to break her tie with Helen Wills Moody. Navratilova asked King, who had reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 1983 at age 39, to become part of her camp, and they went with Kardon to Hilton Head to begin preparing for the '89 tournament at the All England Club.
King warned Navratilova that she probably was a year from being ready to win Wimbledon again. King also told Kardon, "You've got to be willing to be fired every day. You can't be afraid to lose [the job]."
Kardon subdued his qualms about being supplanted as Navratilova's coach and quietly watched King go to work. "It was a little weird at first, because I wondered what I had been doing wrong," he says. "But Billie reinforced me. I've gotten a priceless education."
King began by giving Navratilova some painful lessons in reality. First, King and Kardon stood on one side of the net and Navratilova on the other. "Here," King said, handing her a ball. "You teach us." Nonplussed, Navratilova backed away. "What do you mean?" she said. "You're supposed to teach me."
King told Navratilova to explain all of her strokes, one by one. "I need to find out what you know and don't know," said King.
"But I don't know where to start," Navratilova said, giggling in panic.