Though she's tops, Evert Lloyd says peak is yet to come
In the press box came word about the location of the post-match interview, not that the final of the Avon Tennis Championships of Boston were over. In fact, Mima Jausovec led 4-3 in the second set and had a chance to take Chris Evert Lloyd to a third.
To those familiar with Evert Lloyd comebacks, however, Mima's was "fat" chance, which is to say, a very slim one. The world's No. 1-ranked player can smell a victory like Earl Campbell can sniff out the goal line, and now she was rolling.
Having all but wiped out an 0-4 deficit, she kept the relentless pressure on her unseeded opponent, won the next three games, completing a run of six straight, and took the match 6-4, 6-4.
Though Evert Lloyd never faced a player who had ever beaten her all week, and the Avon field was minus most of her chief rivals, the victory still held special significance.
It was, amazingly, her first in Boston. It also proved again that she can pick her spots and still play with no noticeable lack of sharpness.
Chris said as much herself afterward: "I feel I'm playing a lot better now than last year at this time, when I came back from a three-month layoff."
Last year she sat out the indoor, winter tour to get away from the game and spend more time with her handsome English husband, John Lloyd, a top British player. The leave of absence revived her competitive instincts, which had finally waned seven years after turning pro. She returned to win the Italian Open, ending a drought in the winner's circle, then added victories in the French and US Opens en route to the No. 1 ranking and a 70-5 match record.
Chris Evert was back! -- that is, if you can call a third-to-first climb on the charts a recovery.
Boston marked her first tournament in four months, a 1981 debut that came none too soon as far as the movers and shapers of women's tennis are concerned. At times, the winter circuit has been dangerously thin on gate attractions. Injuries have sidelined Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger; Evonne Goolagong is expecting her second baby; and Martina Navratilova can't play every stop.
With this group absent, Evert Lloyd figured she could help out the tournament sponsors and tune up her strokes by playing in Boston, where she had lost on four previous occasions.
Her presence made all the difference in the world, helping to draw a record crowd of 8,378 to the very un-tennislike surroundings of the Boston Garden. Considering that an important Celtics-76ers basketball game was simultaneously televised locally along with an NCAA tournament doubleheader, the tennis organizers could have wound up starting at a lot of empty seats.
The public, perhaps, has come to the realization that Evert Lloyd won't play forever, and that the opportunities to see one of the greatest players in history are lessening. This isn't to say retirement is imminent, but she has already overshot her anticipated stay in the game.
"At 18," she says, "I thought I'd be married and starting a family by the time I was 21. Now I'm 26, but I still feel really into my career."
At this point, though, she feels less of an obligation to carry the tour by playing from New York to Timbuktu. Let the kids take up the slack. Chris will concentrate on peaking for major tournaments, much as Jack Nicklaus has done in golf.
When not on the circuit or visiting her husband's folks in England, she and John retreat to her parent's home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., or their condominium in Palm Springs, Calif. On these occasions she can live what is, for her, an appealingly normal life, unlike the one that has made her a celebrity under siege since 1971. That was the year she brought her two-fisted backhand to Forest Hills, N.Y., and became the youngest semifinalist in US championship history.
Reporters have followed her ever since, chronicling every sensitive step toward womanhood, including her former romance with Jimmy Connors. Besides a trail of vanquished opponents, she left a succession of intriguing headlines in her wake: "The New Chris Evert"; "The Metamorphosis of Chris"; "She's Chrissie Evert No More."
It was no way to grow up, but somehow she managed, gradually finding her own way without losing the qualities that make her special. As Ted Tinling, a longtime observer of the women's tour, explains, Chris is "the ultimate in charm , sportmanship, and graciousness."
The big question now is, what possible athletic goals can someone have who has won more than 90 percent of her matches, over 100 tournaments, and 14 cars while making an estimated $6 million in total income from all sources since turning pro?
"I don't think I've reached my peak yet," she replies, shockingly. "I think I can get a little quicker and have a more versatile, all-around game rather than just a baseline game."
Well, as long as there are tennis mountains in her future, maybe she should change her name to Chris Everest Lloyd.