After four days of blissful sunshine and cream, the skies wept for the first time over Wimbledon last Friday morning, and that afternoon Chris Evert Lloyd, three-time women's champion of The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, five-time runner-up, never less than a semifinalist and the second favorite daughter-in-law over all the British Isles, was beaten in the third round. Beaten 6-1, 7-6 by unheralded Kathy Jordan. Beaten like a poor, sick dog, which was about what Evert Lloyd felt like.
What made the upset so stunning wasn't so much that Evert Lloyd, in possession of the U.S., Australian and French championships in succession for the first time in her illustrious career, was driving toward an ersatz Grand Slam. (Most tennis purists insist that to win a true Grand Slam a player must win the four majors in the same calendar year, as the four previous winners had done; Evert Lloyd's most recent U.S. and Australian titles came in 1982.) Or even that Jordan, 23, although a tough, gritty customer who has surprised big names in the past, hadn't even won a set from Evert Lloyd in five previous matches. The result caused shock waves primarily because of Evert Lloyd's astonishing consistency in the majors ever since she'd whacked the Holiday Park clay off her Converses back in Fort Lauderdale 12 summers ago and ventured forth to fame, fortune and as many iced tea commercials as she could bag.
Imagine this: Before last week Evert Lloyd had played in 34 Grand Slam tournaments and had won 15 of them—six U.S. Opens, five French Opens, three Wimble-dons and one Australian. Further, she had never, not once, lost before the semis. No player, man or woman, can match that record. Consequently, after she lost to Jordan, the praise flowed in, as if in memoriam. Martina Navratilova: "I never realized her record. What an unbelievable feat." Rosie Casals: "This was one of the great achievements in any sport." Billie Jean King: "A miracle of an achievement. It was sad to see it end."
It might well not have ended had Evert Lloyd not been attacked by a stomach virus the night before she played Jordan. The ailment caused vomiting that her husband, John, called "violent, unreal," and it left her in a condition at 4 a.m. that her mother, Colette, termed "delirious." Evert Lloyd was pale and glassy-eyed throughout the match. From the stands John had glucose tablets sent to her early in the second set, and she promptly revived to take a 4-0 lead. But all was for naught. Evert Lloyd cut short her postmatch press conference, fleeing to throw up in the privacy of the locker room once more. However, she refused to cop a plea. "I don't make excuses," said Evert Lloyd. "I wouldn't have walked on court if I hadn't felt fit...if I hadn't thought I could perform."
Evert Lloyd has had an emotional roller coaster of a year. Not only has she lost two finals to Navratilova, but gossip sheets had her losing her marriage as well. She was linked to Adam Faith, 43, an over-the-vinyl-hill British rock star. In reality, Evert Lloyd's renewed desire to win more major titles did cause a rift in the marriage, and it's said that John, who wanted his wife to curtail her tennis, perhaps even start a family, was ready to walk until Evert Lloyd coaxed him into staying. Other reports say that she left him to go live with her family, which summarily sent her packing back to the hearth. Now things seem to be patched up.
"The biggest difference between John and me is that I'm a competitor and he's not," says Evert Lloyd. "He's not sure what he wants to do with his life yet, and I am. That doesn't mean we can't have a good marriage. It's important to stimulate each other mentally and emotionally. We realized that we weren't working at the marriage enough."
The two have vastly dissimilar personalities. John, for all his dazzling looks and nice guyishness, is basically a quiet stay-at-home who loves to watch TV—"too much," says Evert Lloyd—and has obviously lost his zest for tennis. "I'm the ambitious one; John's the relaxed one," she says. Friends say it grates terribly on Evert Lloyd when John, now ranked 326 on the ATP computer, collapses when he's ahead on the court, as he did in losing 6-1, 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the first round at Wimbledon to good old No. 133, Craig Miller of Australia. "As a tennis player you have to be selfish, but you can't be selfish in a marriage," Evert Lloyd says. "It's taken me a long time to figure out how to separate the two."
On Thursday night, Evert Lloyd had a dinner of steak, baked potato and trifle. After retiring, she was afflicted with cramps and the shakes. She became so nauseated that a doctor was called at 2 a.m. She finally fell asleep at dawn and thus wasn't awakened until noon, too late to take a practice hit before facing Jordan, a serve-and-volleyer whose game is ideally suited to grass. Raised along the Philadelphia Main Line, Jordan won the women's national collegiate title while at Stanford in 1979. Since then she has had her best success in doubles, winning Wimbledon in '80 and the U.S. Open in '81, both with Anne Smith. Jordan's robust face is ringed with curls, recalling the young Maureen O'Hara in all her Irish vixen roles, and Jordan admits to having blown several matches by losing control of her temper.
Jordan, whose sister, Barbara, 26, also is a tour regular, was ranked ninth in the world in 1980. By the end of last year, she had slipped to No. 21, but a four-month hiatus from the circuit this winter, during which she recovered from a shoulder injury and modified her backhand grip under the tutelage of Tracy Austin's mentor, Robert Lansdorp, prepared Jordan for her grand moment. Jordan broke Evert Lloyd's serve right off, held her own in a tight game for a 3-1 lead and then ran out the first set with the loss of only three more points. She was serving wide to Evert Lloyd's forehand and punishing her high returns with crisp volleys. Even in baseline exchanges Evert Lloyd couldn't break down Jordan's slice backhand, which seems to begin somewhere inside her earlobe—"I've told KJ she's gonna end up like Van Gogh," says King—and which she scythes like an executioner. When an ace and two service winners took Jordan to 40-0 in the first game of the second set, Evert Lloyd looked finished.
Earlier Evert Lloyd had gazed wishfully at the clouds—praying for rain and a delay to the next day?—but now she crushed a backhand return winner that put her on the way to a break and that 4-0 lead. In the next game, though, with Jordan serving at 30 all, Evert Lloyd netted two routine backhand returns to make the score 4-1. At 4-2, she had three break points but gave those away as Jordan kept charging the net, even behind her second serve. "I saw her over there, eager and jumping around," said Evert Lloyd. "I can read body language. She wasn't intimidated."
Now the pressure shifted to the wilting shoulders of Evert Lloyd. Jordan broke back for 5 all, helped by a let cord winner and a stop volley. After she won the first four points of the tiebreaker, which she ultimately closed out by the score of 7-2, she was home free, and the marvelous Evert Lloyd record was history.
The next afternoon Jordan sat in the players' tea room, munching on a lunch that would have knocked over three stevedores. Meanwhile, a couple of miles away, Evert Lloyd stayed abed at Willow Cottage, unable to shake the rubber from her legs. The London papers had screamed about Evert Lloyd's mystery bug, and Jordan was asked about her opponent's health. "Look, I respect Chris so much," she said, "that's why I wasn't more emotional at the end. I felt for her. Anybody would. She's a great champion, and she'll be back to win more of these. But it wouldn't look good for the rest of us if she won the Grand Slam. I'm proud of stopping that. And I don't want to hear about her being sick. I didn't even look at her. It doesn't matter to me if she couldn't walk. A win is a win."
By Sunday, as she waited for a massage at home and watched Richard Harris as Cromwell on the telly, Evert Lloyd seemed resigned to her fate. "I've got to feel this was meant to be; the virus was such a freak thing," she said. "It feels so strange, such a letdown to be out of the tournament. If I weren't in the doubles, I'd probably skip town. Now I have to sit around drinking tea and watching the girls play singles while I wonder what the hell happened."
A debilitating stomach virus and an aggressive Jordan did in Evert Lloyd.