It was the sort of afternoon romantics associate with Paris in the springtime - the sun shining brilliantly, the flowers in fragrant blossom, lovers strolling hand in hand underneath the chestnut trees. And newlywed Chris Evert Lloyd was as radiant as the day.
A year after she relinquished her stranglehold on women's tennis to Martina Navratilova. . . Two months after she lost back-to-back matches at Madison Square Garden, concluding a disappointing winter season disastrously. . . a month a nd a half after her celebrated marriage to British Davis Cup player John Lloyd. . . three weeks after her six-year, 125 match clay-court winning streak was snapped by teen-ager Tracy Austin, Evert is eager to win tennis matches again, but happy that it no longer seems a matter of life and death.
"I just want to play tennis because I want to, and not-because it's the only thing I can do," the 24-year-old floridian said today after dismissing Californian Kate Latham, 6-1, 6-0, in the first round of the french open, which Evert won in 1974-75 and then missed the last three years because she was playing world team tennis in the United States.
"I think in the past I've played because it was the only thing I coulddo, and I really had a yearning to win every match. On days I played, my match was all that counted. I never noticed what kind of a day it was, what kind of flowers were out there, little things like that.
"I wasn't aware of them. Now I am, and I'm enjoying playing more.
"i would like to stay one of the best players in the world. If it's Martina's time now to be No. 1, that's fine. But I still want to be up there with her."
The last year and a half has been an emotional roller-coaster ride for Evert, who has known international celebrity and nurtured a professional reputation for icy, unflappable cold, but remains very much the girl next door - down to earth, considerate, sensitive, concerned with making her personal friendships, family life and marriage work as well as her tennis career.
At the end of 1977, she was alone atop the world of women's tennis, but desperately unhappy. She took four months off from tennis, her longest break from the game since 1971.
Since then, she has not been the unapproachable world-beater she was before, although she did not lose a match in the last five months of 1978, after Navratilova beat her in the Wimbledon final. But vulnerable though she may occasionally be on the court, she is much happier with her life, and she wears the newfound joie de vivre becomingly.
Evert says published stories that she was near a nervous breakdown before she took her four-month leave from the tennis circuit were exaggerated, but perhaps not greatly.
"I just went through a period where I had no feeling on the tennis court. I just felt that I had played too much. I'm bascially a pretty happy person, but I was crying after my matches," she recalled today.
"I can't put my finger on the exact reason, except I was over-tennised. I guess it was an accumulation of emotion, mental and physical strain. I didn't feel like myself at all.
"But a mental breakdown? I don't really think I came close to that. I mean, my label has always been 'Little Miss Cool,' because I've always been in control of myself. Maybe if I had played a couple of more weeks I'd have gone off the deep end, though. I think I quit at a good time.
"I wanted to find out if I needed tennis to make me happy. I did nothing those four months - traveled a little bit, visited some friends, but most of the time just stayed at home in Fort Lauderdale and lived a normal life.
"And I enjoyed it. Sure, once in awhile I missed the tennis, but I saw I could live without it. I didn't have a deep desire and need for tennis. That's what I wanted to find out, if it was dominating my life.
"During that time I got much closer to my family and friends," she went on. "Those relationships suffer when I'm on the tour, playing all the time, because I don't give as much to them. I'm thinking more about myself and my tennis. So it was very meaningful for me to take that time off."
It was during Wimbledon last year, shortly after she returned to the circuit, that she met and started dating Lloyd, 24, a handsome and unfailingly good-natured Englishman who had a bit of a reputation as a playboy, having courted such celebrities as actresses Susan George and Valerie Perrine.
They began seeing each other seriously last summer and fall, during which time Evert was leading the Los Angeles Strings to the last WTT title, and winning her fourth consecutive U.S. Open and everything else she played. They announced their engagement just before the Thanksgiving and were married in Fort Lauderdale on April 17.
"The wedding went fine. We tried to keep it small, a private thing, but the only way we could have done that would have been to elope," Evert said.
"That's probably why so many people in the public eye just run away and get married. I understand that now. But it went okay. I was happy. I was just glad it was over."
All winter she had poured much more energy and emotion into her impending nuptials than into her tennis. And since she is a player who relies heavily on intensity and ironclad concentration, her wandering mind showed on court. Twice she lost two consecutive matches, something she never had done before in her professional career. The second time - when Austin and Dianne Fromholtz beat her on successive nights in the double elimination Avon Championships at Madison Square Garden in March - she refused to attend a postmatch press conference and issued an uncharacteristically terse statement saying that she felt the press had been "insensitive to her personal situation."
Two weeks before the wedding, Evert came back from a set and 1-3 down to beat Fromholtz for the $100,000 first prize in the four-woman Clairol Crown Tournament at La Costa, Calif. - an important morale booster for her.
After a two-week honeymoon, she returned to competition by teaming with Austin and Rosemary Casals to give the United States its fourth consecutive victory in the Federation Cup international team championship at Madrid.
A week later, at the sparsely attended women's segment of the Italian Open in Rome, she lost her astonishing clay-court streak - one of the most remarkable feats in sports - to Austin, 7-6, in the third set after leading 4-2. She took it amazingly well.
"Losing the streak didn't bother me as much as losing the match, I should have won it, but I got a little tentative. I was content just getting the ball back, moving her around, playing conservatively, and Tracy started hitting out. She went for broke and won it," Evert said.
"Actually, it was a relief to have the streak end. I was upset, naturally, but it was like a burden lifted from my shoulders. It took a lot of pressure off me.
"Now I feel I can take more chances and be a little more creative on clay. I can go for more shots, and not feel restricted by trying to protect the streak."
Evert has trained and practiced hard the last month, and feels confident that she will justify her No. 1 seeding in the French championship.
"I've felt more eager the last month than I have since the second half of last year. I've gotten pretty hungry to win again. I'm working a lot harder and I'm in much better shape, so that it's easier for me to move on the court and hit winners," said Evert, who has dropped eight pounds, and is now a trim 5-foot-5 and 122 pounds.
"I think getting into good shape is 50 percent of my game, and the other 50 percent is the desire and will to want to go out there and win. I hadn't had that all year, but I have it now."
She still is not quite accustomed to umpires referring to her as "Chris Evert-Lloyd," as the Frenchman in the chair did today.
"It's difficult. I'm kind of torn, because I always thought when I married, I would take my husband's name," she said. "But when I'm playing tennis, people still relate to me as Chris Evert, not Chris Lloyd. So it doesn't make any difference to me at all. On the hotel register, I'm Mrs. Lloyd, and on the tennis court Chris Evert is fine." CAPTION: Picture, Chris Evert, shown with husband John Lloyd, now plays tennis because she wants to. UPI