After a nerve-wracking hour and 35 minutes, during which she played patient and purposeful tennis to beat the spectacularly unpredictable Hana Mandikova, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, Chris Evert Lloyd thrust her arms up in the air gleefully and turned, beaming, to the courtside box where guests of the competitors sit in the stadium of the National Tennis Center.
She had just won the women's singles title of the U.S. Open for the fifth time in six years, but the smile that seemed to stretch for miles across her face -- the familiar, appealing face that has so long kept emotions private and hidden closely guarded feelings -- confirmed that this one meant the most.
Like the majority of the 20,086 spectators in the vast, sun-drenched stadium, Chrissie's special guests were on their feet, applauding.
Her husband, British Davis Cup player John Lloyd, chewed furiously on a wad of gum. Her mother, Colette, and youngest sister, Clare, who three weeks ago became the national 12-and-under doubles champion, embraced each other.
And glowing brightest of all, in his quiet, reserved, dignified way, was her father -- Fort Lauderdale teaching pro Jimmy Evert -- who had always chosen to stay at home and watch on television before, and had never been there in person to see the exemplary champion he groomed win a major title.
There was something extrordinarily touching about the satisfaction in Evert's face today, and in that long, loving look that told her family: "This one's for you."
Evert has won two Wimbledon, four French Open, three Italian Open, six U.S. Clay Court, and numerous women's tour championship titles in addition to her five U.S. Opens, but for her, this was a major major.
She has won 42 of 43 matches since returning to competition in May after a four-month leave of absence to recharge her emotional batteries -- the only loss was to Evonne Goolagong Cawley in the Wimbledon final -- and this triumph was the culmination of a comeback few people thought would be so successful. On Friday she ended a five-match losing streat against her nemesls, 17-year-old Tracy Austin, and today she reclaimed the Open title
After receiving the $46,000 top prize and the cherished trophy, Evert publicly thanked the umpire, linesmen, ballpersons and tournament officials and sponsors, as she always does. She priased the gifted, athletic, improving Mandlikova, saying of the 18-year-old rising star, "She's really played umbelievably the past few weeks. I'm sure she'll be a future champion."
And then, after the obligatory niceties that she handles so graciously, Evert said what was really on her mind: "I want to thank my mother, who's been with me at every Open ... my husband, who inspired me to come back ... and especially my father, because this is the first big tournament that he's ever seen me win."
Jimmy Evert -- who works for the City of Fort Lauderdale, teaching and running the public tennis facility at Holiday Park -- is a kindly but high-strung man. He has high blood pressure, and long ago decided that it would be easier on his nerves to stay at hime with the youngest of his five children and follow his celebrated daughter's progress in tournaments through TV, radio and phone calls than to be on the scene, living and dying on every point.
Chris understood. She figured that father knows best. She realized how much he suffers during a tense match. It has been that way since 1971, when she groundstroked her way into the American consciousness as Miss American Pie, reaching the semifinals of the Open at age 16. Her mother and father were both with her that year. Chris has reached at least the semis of the Open every year since, but only Cloette has accompanied her. Jimmy has lent his support and encouragement by phone.
He went to Wimbledon once, in 1975, but Chris lost in the semifinals to Billie Jean King. She won the title in 1974 and 1976, and he was at home, waiting for the phone call and the delayed telecast.
This time, she wanted him closer.
"He's my coach, he's been my only coach for 20 years, and I would have been very frustrated if I finished my career and he never saw me win a major title," said Chris, who inherited her serious nature, her reserve, and her almond eyes from him.
"I dragged him here. I told him at the beginning of the week that if I got to the final, I expected him to be here. He flew up Friday night with my little sister."
She gave him plenty to be proud of, keeping her legendary cool after Mandlikova hit one of her brilliant patches, serving and volleying superbly to win the first set after being 2-4 down.
It was, by Evert's apt description, "a funny kind of a match."
Mandlikova missed four of five first serves and lost all four of those points to drop her serve in the first game. Evert led, 4-2, and had two break points for a 5-2 lead.
A running forehand by Evert that looked long but was called good put Mandlikova at 15-40. She glared at the lineman, looked questionably at umpire Florence Blanchard, but did not argue. She is a maturing match player who has learned to keep her temper in check.
In this case, she channeled it into a streak of inspired play. She won six points in a row after the suspect call, held serve, and broke Evert for the first time with a backhand down-the-line volley that cut like a razor.
From 0-40 in the next game, she put five straight blazing first serves in the court and followed them to the net. On the last, for a 5-4 lead, she didn't have to make a volley. It was a clean ace down the center.
Mandlikova, who rivals Martina Navratilova, whom she idolized as a young teen growing up in Czechoslovakia and beat for the second time in 10 days here at the Open, as the best server in women's tennis -- served another strong game to go up 6-5, and broke Evert at love for the set.
Twice she got in behind chipped returns of first serves, she crunched a killer overhead when Evert couldn't decide whether to lob or hit a passing shot and instead floated a shallow "pigeon," and on the first set point she laced a screaming forehand winner.
"When she's serving like that and playing her best, there's not much you can do," acknowledged Evert, who finds it difficult and nerve-testing to play against someone who blows as hot and cold as Mandlikova.
"I really didn't feel like I had my rhythm the whole match, because Hana never hits the same shot twice in a row. She'll hit a top-spin backhand, then a slice backhand, then a top-spin forehand, and a drop shot. She breaks up my rhythm ... But I didn't think she could keep up playing so brilliantly. I knew I had to be patient."
Sure enough, Mandlikova came back to earth. After playing somewhere in the stratosphere in those closing games of the first set, she double-faulted twice to lose her serve in the first game of the second.
Evert kept on the pressure with forcing service returns -- lower and wider than 15-year-old Andrea Jaeger had been able to produce against Mandlikova in the semifinals -- and the slender, bouncing Chech grew increasingly ragged. i
Like Johan Kriek, who led Bjorn Borg by two sets to love and then evaporated when he got within sight of winning in the preceding men's singles semifinal, Mandlikova started making errors in clusters. She kept trying equisitely difficult shots -- drop volleys and drink returns and ambitious approach shots -- but they weren't coming off. Evert settled into her intimidatingly steady game, and Mandlikova -- an exciting but still unconsolidated talent -- crashed in flames.
They had played each other three times before -- in the Italian, French and Canadian Opens, all this year -- and each time Evert won comfortably in the third set. That experience struck in both their minds.
"The other players sometimes lose the big points, they miss some balls, but Chris never misses on the big points. I come to the net and she never misses the passing shot," said Mandlikova, who won a pre-Open torunament in Mahwah, N.J. and reached her first major final. "So I am not disappointed. I played very good tennis the last three weeks. I am happy. My time will come I think."
Evert's time has come, gone, and now returned. She was "thrilled," but saved any outward displays of jubilation for a private celebration with her family.
She is only the fourth woman to win America's premier title five times or more, joining Molla Bjurstedt Malloy (seven titles), Helen Wills Moody (seven) and Margaret Smith Court (five). She also has a realistic shot at being ranked No. 1 for the year, regaining the position she held for five years before Navratilova succeeded her in 1979, though she admitted shw must play well through the fall to clinch the No. 1 spot.
"I think the last two years, I haven't been No. 1 and a lot of the press has been very discouraging to me. They wrote that Martina and Tracy (Austin) were the contenders, and Chris will never be No. 1 again. You read these things day after day, and it makes an impact. I was disappointed, and I think I lost a little faith in myself," said Evert, who took a four-month sabbatical and considered retirement after Austin drubbed her three times in 11 days in January.
"Everybody said I couldn't come back and be No. 1 again, but I thought it was possible, she said. I wanted to prove something, not only to myself, but to everybody."