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After sixth Open title, Chris still has worlds to conquer

By Ross AtkinSports writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 13, 1982



New York

Winning has never become boring for Chris Evert Lloyd, even if it sometimes has for those who've watched her. It's natural to wonder, however, how much exhilaration there was in beating Hana Mandlikova 6-3, 6-1 for her sixth US Open tennis championship.

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''Well, the first time you win a tournament like this it's always a bigger thrill,'' she said. ''But I can appreciate what it means to win now. I feel I have a place in tennis history and realize it gets harder every year with so many young players gunning for me.''

Chris has an unquestionable niche in Open history, yet not quite the one she thought. Though unexpressive on the court, she looked startled when asked if she now seeks to tie Molla Mallory's record of eight US titles.

''What?'' she replied incredulously. ''So now the record's eight? Somebody told me it was six.''

The champion can be excused her confusion, for she has spent more time making history than studying or cross-checking it.

For the record, she has now won a record 66 matches in the Open and stands in third place with her six singles crowns, behind only Mallory and Helen Wills Moody, a seven-time champion. Mallory's record was achieved over a 15-year period beginning in 1919; Moody's in a nine-year span starting in 1923; and Evert Lloyd's during the past 12 years.

She's never failed to make at least the semifinals in this stretch, a truly incredible feat that no current player, man or woman, comes close to matching.

Of course, the only time she surprised the experts was in 1971, when at the age of 16 she burst into prominence on the grass at Forest Hills. Her performance was shocking news, since junior players generally knew better than to venture out where they didn't belong.

Her trailblazing effort seemed to spawn a whole generation of precocious young women. Pam Shriver would become the youngest Open finalist in 1978, while Tracy Austin would be the youngest champion and Kathy Horvath the youngest female entrant in 1979.

In a sense, she is reponsible for turning women's tennis into a teen-age game loaded with hundreds of girls, who, consciously or not, have adopted her two-fisted backhand and steady baseline style of play.

''The way women's tennis is geared today, they are all teen-agers,'' Shriver said here. ''I felt I graduated from the class when I turned 20. I'm a veteran now.''

At 27, Evert Lloyd is the senior and most decorated of today's blue chip players. And because she has alluded to retirement on occasion, particularly since her marriage in 1979 to British pro John Lloyd, reporters constantly badger her about the future.

She wasn't prepared to make any long-range projections after her victory at the National Tennis Center. ''I'll go to December and see how I feel,'' she said. ''If I'm still eager, I'll commit myself for another year.''

Her incentive during the rest of this year will be to retake the top spot from Martina Navratilova, who came to New York as the favorite to win her first Open and keep a Grand Slam bid alive.

''Martina has still had a better year then I've had, and she's still the better player,'' Chris stated generously. ''But we haven't played the Australian Open or the Toyota Series championship yet, so we'll have to see what happens.''

Many people had anticipated that the two would meet here as they did in the Wimbledon final, but there was to be no rematch. Shriver saw to that, handing her physically drained doubles partner only her second loss since the year began in a quarterfinal upset. The defeat was another in a decade-long string of emotional episodes for Navratilova at the Open.

Martina had arrived here more mature and confident than ever. Coming off victories in the French and Wimbledon championships, the latter via a conquest of Evert Lloyd in the final, she appeared strong enough to complete her Grand Slam quest with US and Australian titles. A slam, she implied, might secure her spot among the all-time greats.

That seemed a a bit presumptuous to Evert Lloyd, who has sometimes felt her many major championships, though never strung together for a slam, weren't fully appreciated. At times, the media made it seem as though Chris would go to the end of the world to stop Navratilova, and was hoping for a center court duel here.

Was she disappointed not to have met her top-seeded rival in the final? ''No ,'' she explained. ''My goal was to win the tournament, not to beat any one player. This has been a strange year for me. I hadn't won a major tournament and really wanted this one.''

This was not the first time Chris used her slight underdog's role to maximum effect. It also provided motivation for recapturing the title two years ago after Austin had ruined her bid for a record fifth straight championship in 1979 . Tracy went on to beat her three times in straight sets at the beginning of 1980, prompting the only real sabbatical of Evert Lloyd's career - a recharging of batteries that proved successful as Chris came back to win her fifth US crown by beating Mandlikova in the finals 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.

The fifth-seeded Czech, who beat defending champion Austin before knocking off Shriver in the semifinals, held the potential to make things closer this time. ''I'm much tougher mentally and physically,'' she said. But if so, Evert Lloyd was also sharper.

Throughout the tournament, in fact, Chris played with machine-like precision. In seven matches she dropped but one set, that to fast-rising 19-year-old Bonnie Gadusek. Not even Andrea Jaeger, who had beaten her three times this year, could extract more than three games in their lopsided semifinal duel.

''I think she was better than two years ago,'' said Mandlikova, whose full arsenal of shots was no match for the steadiness of Evert Lloyd. Hana may be the artist of women's tennis, but once again Chris has proved a superior carpenter, who pounds and pounds away until the job is done.