Anyone searching for clues to Chris Evert Lloyd's mood is always well advised to see how hubby John has done lately. Crashing in ignominious flames is what hubby John did the first day at Wimbledon, having a two-set lead in hand on his home grounds before losing three straight sets to an anonymity from nowhere.

What with this giddy nation winning wars and having royal babies in the same month that its footballers march forward in the World Cup, a hero's status awaited John Lloyd should he, of all Britons, do anything worthwhile at hallowed Wimbledon.

Such a sad defeat for John, then, and the tennis cognoscenti anxiously pondered the effect of it on Chrissie, three times a champion here, always a heroine. Barbara Gerken, her opponent in today's beginning of what should be a spectacular women's tournament, stumbled over her nerves so often that the 6-0, 6-4 decision tells us nothing.

Better to simply ask Evert how John's defeat affected her. "I was instructed," she said with sport's most endearing smile, "to put it out of my mind today. It's over with."

Past this tiny bit of worry without a bobble, Evert now is dead set on a confrontation sometime next week with Tracy Austin, the only other of the top five seeds in her bracket, and then the year's first meeting with her old rival, Martina Navratilova.

A Lloyd-Navratilova match would come only for the championship. It is no sure thing in a tournament that Virginia Wade calls the closest in years. Women's tennis (and men's, for that matter) both profits and suffers from the game's dominance by a handful of players. The women this time have five possible winners, three more than usual.

"Martina is in excellent form," Wade said, understating the obvious. Navratilova, practically invincible since becoming a U.S. citizen 11 months ago, has reached the final of 18 straight tournaments and won 13 of them. She has won 20 straight matches and 48 of her last 49.

"Chris is such a champion," Wade said, "and Wimbledon means so much to her. I absolutely put her in the same category with Martina."

Andrea Jaeger, Hana Mandlikova and Austin "are a very small step behind, depending on the day and the inspiration. We have five absolutely sensational players at the top."

Of those sensations, the most familiar because she has been with us as child and woman for 11 summers is Chris Evert Lloyd, once presumed to be cold as ice but now known as a single-minded athlete in whom the fires of competition always burned brightly.

And still do.

She dearly wants to win this Wimbledon.

Because she is, after all, very, very old. Listen to her.

"I don't have the luxury of time on my side," she said when someone asked what remaining ambitions she might have. "I don't have too many more years, so I'm not playing like I was when I was 17, 18, playing loosely and with no pressure, saying, 'Well, if I don't win this year, I have 10 more years.' "

Yes, Chris Evert Lloyd is very, very old.

She'll be 28 in December.

"I only have two or three more years to play if I want to play. So I'm putting pressure on myself. Even though I'm not playing 30 tournaments a year, the times I do play I'm trying to put my best tennis on the line and work hard on it."

Evert smiled and tilted her head just so, her face a little girl's for a moment, and said, "of course, it didn't work in the French Open."

There she lost for the third time this year to Jaeger, who is 16, as Chris Evert was the first time she stepped up to serve to Billie Jean King and Margaret Court.

"I always say I have 'two or three more years,' because everybody wants to pin me down," said Evert. "They say, 'how much longer do you want to play?' and they want an answer. I don't have an answer. I'll just finish out the year and then I'll look back.

"I'll say, 'Am I still eager? Am I still hungry to win titles? To win tournaments? Am I still competitive?' If I am, I'll continue to play. When I was 19, I never thought I'd be playing now at 27. I thought I'd settle down, get married and have kids in my early 20s."

Softly she added, "That never happened."

In 11 years on tour, Evert has won over $3.6 million. Margaret Court won 24 major championships (the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, the French and Australian) and Helen Wills Moody won 19. King, Suzanne Lenglen and Evert are next with 12.

Evert would like to be remembered as one of the best ever. "If you take a look at my record and see what I've done, not only on clay but on all surfaces--in the Grand Slam tournaments for 11 years, I've never been worse than the semifinals. I don't think anybody's ever done that."

Pete Rose couldn't have hit a statistic more solidly. Evert has played in 29 of the major championships since her first U.S. Open in 1971. She has won 12, been runner-up seven times and lost in the semifinals 10 times.

Evert's most dangerous opponent in her half of the Wimbledon draw is Austin, who, strangely, no longer frightens Evert as she once did.

"The first time I played Tracy it was really emotional for me," Evert said. "She was like--6 years old? She was 14 or 15 and it was the first time I'd ever played anybody younger than me, and I felt a lot of pressure. Now I know how Billie Jean and Margaret Court felt against me. Now the only pressure I feel is to play good, tough tennis."

Austin is getting old herself, already up to 19.

"Probably the five or six top seeds are the five or six to beat," Evert said gently to someone asking her to handicap the tournament. "I'd say Martina because of the year she's having."

Evert then stoked the fires of competition.

"But I think if I get to the final, I'll be tough to beat."

Why?

"I just will," she said.

Her smile was warm and cold at once.