It was three years ago, almost to the day, that John Lloyd stood on the stadium court of the National Tennis Center thinking perhaps his days as a tennis player were over. As 15,000 people watched, Jimmy Conno
It was three years ago, almost to the day, that John Lloyd stood on the stadium court of the National Tennis Center thinking perhaps his days as a tennis player were over. As 15,000 people watched, Jimmy Connors humiliated him, 6-0, 6-0, 6-2, on a cold, drizzly opening morning of the U.S. Open.
"That was the most horrible match of my life," Lloyd said today. "I was scared stiff from the first point to the last. I was freezing. I felt like a robot out there. I had lost 12 first rounds in a row and all I wanted to do was play someone on an outside court, lose and get it over with."
This afternoon, on an outside court jammed with spectators, most notably his wife Chris Evert Lloyd, John Lloyd played Libor Pimek, the 28th-ranked player in the world. The result was similar: 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.
Only today, four days after his 30th birthday, Lloyd won. "He's so much tougher mentally now," his wife said. "Before, he used to give up in a tough match. Now, he's intense. He plays every single point."
The victory marked another step in a remarkable turnaround. Three years ago, after that loss to Connors, Evert was so upset that she accused Connors, a former boyfriend, of trying to humiliate her husband.
Since that day, Lloyd slowly pulled his game together. He has won the last two mixed doubles championships at Wimbledon, reached the round of 16 here last year and, by reaching at least the round of 32 here, probably will move up from his No. 49 ranking.
He also has endured a separation from Evert that was as much a media event as Wimbledon. Now his marriage and his tennis are intact again.
"I found out that you can have both, career and marriage," he said. "After a while, back when I was playing badly, it started to eat at me inside. I lost my self-respect. My ranking had gone from 25 to something ridiculous in the 300s (356). I was out of shape, I was just out there hitting shots. I thought maybe my days as a player were over."
Lloyd's tailspin as a player coincided, not by coincidence, with his marriage in April 1979. Not wanting to be away from his wife, he played little and practiced sporadically. "It was a very happy time in my life," he said today. "I was very happy in my marriage, very happy being with Chris and trying to help her. She encouraged me to keep playing. But I really didn't want to. I didn't much feel like traveling alone."
To many, the Lloyds led an ideal life. They are a handsome couple, each articulate and charming. Early this year, though, they separated.
The Lloyds not only had to live with the pain of separation, but with the pain of reading rumors about each other in the paper every day.
"During a time like that, you just have to be sensible about things," Lloyd said, his voice soft at the memory. "You have to be as mature as you can. The only good thing with Chris and I was that we were still best friends.
"I think we both felt it was only a matter of time until we got back together again."
The Lloyds reunited at Wimbledon -- quietly, to avoid a lot of press -- and here, they have been very much a couple. Wednesday, when Lloyd won his first-round match from Peter Fleming, Evert watched from start to finish.
When the match was over, Lloyd winning in four tough sets after blowing a couple of match points in the third, he stood surrounded by reporters while Evert waited for him a few feet away, alone. Suddenly, the irony of the situation hit Lloyd in midsentence and he glanced at his wife and winked.
Today was more of the same. Evert sat with brother John, sister Clare and agent Ron Samuels as Lloyd and Pimek played on Court 16.
While Samuels exhorted Lloyd again and again, Evert, her eyes hidden by dark glasses, clapped on big points, occasionally glancing down at a Sports Illustrated in her lap. The magazine was open to a picture of Joe Theismann's wife (from whom he is separated), who was depicted on another magazine cover with the headline: "The Price of Celebrity."
Unlike three years ago, Lloyd reveled in the attention today. "The more that watch, the merrier now," he said. Also, when the match reached crucial moments, he was the one making the big shot.
"Before, on a big point I would lay back and hope the other guy would make a mistake," he said. "Now, I try to make something positive happen myself. I was sharp today; I wanted to win very badly."
That was apparent throughout the match. More than once, Lloyd softly cursed himself when he made a mistake. He even argued when a questionable call put him down a break point in the second game of the second set. Then, muttering to himself, he served a winner.
That one game, more than any other, showed the difference in Lloyd. It lasted seven deuces -- including three break points.
Pimek got one break point on a mis-hit off the frame. Lloyd responded with an ace. The questionable call followed. Again, Lloyd responded. Pimek slammed a forehand winner and Lloyd shook his head and said, "Damn." He served another winner, then an ace, and slammed a backhand for a winner.
Pimek, more comfortable on clay anyway, lost the next 10 games. During that time, he had six break points. Each time, Lloyd came up with a big shot.
"He's a competitor now," Evert said. "In the past, he had a tendency to let down against good players. The last six months, he's been different."
No one knows that more than her husband. "It occurred to me that I've been playing the game since I was 8 and I only had a few more years to try to play it well," he said. "It would have been stupid to waste the talent I have and the work I've put in.
"I don't think it's healthy to lose your self-respect and that's what had happened. A couple years ago, when I blew those match points against Fleming, I would have crumbled and bagged it. Now, I didn't and that's a great feeling.
"I've never been happier than I am right now. My marriage is good and so's my tennis. It's a great combination." And with that, John Lloyd went to have lunch with his wife before she played her doubles match.