John Lloyd lasted only 79 minutes in the first round of the U.S. Open tennis championships today, losing in a 6-0, 6-0, 6-2 rout to Jimmy Connors. But, because he is married to Chris Evert Lloyd and because his wife was once engaged to Connors, Lloyd received the kind of postmatch attention usually reserved for the top seeds.
He could not have handled it more graciously, patiently answering questions for so long after the match had ended that his wife, waiting outside the locker room for him, sent Gene Mayer in to ask how much longer he was going to be.
"I'm disappointed, not so much that I lost because I didn't think I had a realistic chance of beating Jimmy, but because I absolutely froze for 2 1/2 sets," Lloyd said. "I went out there fighting off negative thoughts. It was a strange feeling. I just wanted a hole to open up in the court so I could crawl into it. It's the worst feeling in the world."
As for the more personal aspects of the match, Lloyd admitted to being aware of the prematch buildup. "You can't help but have it in the back of your mind when you're out there," he said. "You know people are looking from the stands saying, 'What are they thinking?' I knew the minute I saw the draw that people would build it into more than just a tennis match.
"Really though, Jimmy and I get on fine; there's no animosity between us. For me, this was the worst possible draw because right now I don't want to play a match in the stadium, I want to be out on a side court where I can relearn my craft. I'm back to the point now where I feel I have a realistic chance against most players. But Connors and (Bjorn) Borg are the toughest for me, tougher even than McEnroe because you get no cheap points off them."
At the time that he was married 30 months ago, Lloyd was ranked 25th on the ATP computer. Last year he dropped out of the top 400. This year he has come back to 227th, still a long way from his peak.
"Last year I just played like an absolute spasmo," he said. "I'm doing better now, but I'm still a long way from where I was. There are times when I think I'm coming out of it, then I go out and can't hit a ball, like today.
"I've played center court matches and Davis Cup for nine years now, I should be above that, but I'm not."
Lloyd will play doubles here with Nick Saviano. "I'm going to be here two weeks anyway, so I might as well do something." But his main job the rest of the tournament will be to watch his wife play.
"Now starts the hard part, watching her bloody matches," he said. "That's when I really get nervous."
Tracy Austin won her first match easily, defeating Anne Hobbs of Britain, 6-1, 6-2, in a match that only lasted an hour. Austin, who missed four months early this year with a lower back injury, said she feels as if she has recovered fully.
"At Wimbledon I was glad just to be playing," Austin said. "Now I'm glad to be playing well. I think Toronto (where she beat Evert) really helped me. Now, I feel as if I'm back all the way mentally."