The pressure is off Chris Evert Lloyd.

Not because she beat willowy Australian Chris O'Neil in her first Centre Court match at Wimbledon today in straight sets.

But because her husband John won here the night before.

"How much will his win help me?" she asked rhetorically. "That's a real good question. Maybe a lot.

"John's gone through so much in the last two years. At first, I was able to separate his tennis from my tennis. But it's gotten harder. When he loses, it brings me down, really depresses me."

The reason, although neither Lloyd will probably ever own up to it, that John's plummet from being ranked No. 23 in the world (and No. 2 in England) when they married in 1979 to 380th early this year, is that Chris cannot be absolutely sure she isn't all or part of the cause for it.

Conventionally, it has been the woman who more often sacrifices all or some of her career ambitions so she can support her husband's goal, travel with him if necessary. In the Lloyds' marriage, all those strains and crises of conscience have been reversed.

It is the easygoing, popular John Lloyd, who, by nature, is supportive, while it is Evert who is the tiger, the world beater.

On the other hand, being No. 23 in the world isn't chopped liver. To get there, Lloyd had to invest a huge chunk of his life in big league tennis. And dropping from the near-top to oblivion at age 26 is stunning and demoralizing.

"In the last 2 1/2 years, I've said, 'Oh, God,' many times," said John Lloyd. "After losing in the first round in Toronto this year, when I was down to No. 380 on the computer, I didn't know if I should go on.

"I asked myself, 'Do you want to play or not?' There's no point in carrying on half-heartedly.

"Chris and I support each other, but because I was playing so miserably, I devoted everything to her. That was natural," continued John.

"But, in the last few months I've decided to give it a go and I've worked three times harder than I ever have in my life. I've always admired Chris' concentration, her will to win, and I think a little of it may have rubbed off on me.

"I played in Paris although I had to leave her that week," says Lloyd. "She understood. All credit to her. I often think she wants me to win more than I do.

"I've moved up to No. 210 on the rankings, but, after all I've put in, I really wanted to see some results here. Yes, I know everybody works hard; that doesn't mean I deserve to win. But it's hard to go on without proof of progress."

Now, John Lloyd has it. On Court No. 1 Monday night he won a brutal five-set match from solid Phil Dent, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, after trailing, 3-0, in the last set.

As Lloyd came off, Evert told him, "That meant as much to me as the (two) Wimbledons I won."

She probably wasn't exaggerating. Evert's values are traditional, to put it mildly, and the idea of even inadvertently hurting her husband's career would revolt her profoundly.

"I know how much stick (British slang for criticism) John's gotten from the (English) press," said Evert today. "I think he's the most exciting male player in England and I think he can regain his No. 2 ranking."

There is no doubt that if Chris Evert's No. 1 tennis goal is to win Wimbledon, the No. 1A is for her husband to get back to the spot where he was when she married him. Calling it exoneration might not be too strong.

After all, the person Evert practices with most is her husband. He's much better; that's why it improves her game. That's a law of sports. You only grow when you are forced into it to survive.

"I also have been practicing with (No. 16 seed here) Joanne Russell," said Evert, "because if you don't, when you finally get a soft ball (from a woman), you don't know what to do with it."

But what about John Lloyd? What good does it do him to practice, no matter how long or short, with the best woman in the world? If he wants to get better, he ought to seek out a Bjorn Borg or John McEnroe and beg him to beat the living daylights out of him every day.

The problem won't go away. But, in a sense, Evert has probably toughened her husband's mental approach as much as anyone could. "When I got ahead, I was saying to myself, 'It's going to be a good win, this,' and that sort of rubbish," said John. "Then, I fell asleep for a set and a half.

"Then, I had a talk with myself, before the fifth set," said Lloyd. "I told myself, 'You've worked so hard, and it's not been bloodyfun. If you're going to lose, then at least go out 110 percent. If he's too good for you, then okay. But you're going to play the set of your life, now aren't you?'"

"That, perhaps, is the voice of Chris Evert Lloyd, albeit with a British accent.

In the last two years, it has been Evert, so sick of tennis that she once retired for three months, who needed John to tell her constantly, "I really think you can make it all the way back."

Last year she did, reclaiming the season's No. 1 ranking.

Now, the process is reversed. Evert is No. 1 seed here, but it is John whom she constantly counsels in self-confidence.

Realistically, one Wimbledon victory is all -- or more than all -- John Lloyd could expect after entering the event as a charity "wild card." That alone will jump him 20 computer spots.

Nevertheless, the Lloyds can dream. Next in John's path is Argentina's excellent clay-courter, Jose-Luis Clerc; who, with his whipping forehand, is the No. 9 seed. Grass, however, is not Clerc's best surface; it is Lloyds. Beyond Clerc, the path all the way to the quarterfinals is not fierce.

That, almost certainly, is too much to hope.

For the Lloyds, this Wimbledon has, in a sense, already been a grand success.