The compulsion is gone. Chris Evert Lloyd doesn't have to win them all any more. One would be nice. Two would be nicer. Either way, life will go on. It might even get better.
"I was No. 1 and miserable," she said earlier this week. "Now I'm No. 2, working hard and I'm very happy."
It's hard to imagine an athlete who has grown up in public as graciously as Evert has. She is 29. In the 12 years since she turned professional, she has won 15 Grand Slam events, set a record of 56 consecutive match victories, a record (this week) for the number of matches won at the U.S. championships (77) and qualified for 14 consecutive U.S. Open semifinals with her 6-2, 6-3 win over Sylvia Hanika today. She will play Carling Bassett Friday.
"I don't think about my achievements," she said. "I think I have a few records left, if Martina (Navratilova) hasn't broken them all. I have never been able to dwell on these things because I always had a fear that if I started to read and be aware of my success, I wouldn't be able to hit another tennis ball. After I retire, you can tell me all of them."
She has been engaged to and disengaged from Jimmy Connors. She has been mentally tough and mentally burned out. She has been married, separated and reconciled. And she has played on.
She was No. 1 for so long. Now she is No. 2, overwhelmed but not yet overshadowed by Navratilova. She has not beaten Navratilova since the Australian Open in December 1982. She has lost their last 12 matches.
Mike Estep, Navratilova's coach, says every Dempsey must have a Tunney. "It's hard to rate a superstar unless they have a counterpart," Estep said.
What makes Navratilova and Evert unique is that they exchanged roles in mid-career. When Navratilova beat Evert in the final at Wimbledon and evened their rivalry at 30 matches all, she said she wished they could never play again and remain forever equal. It was a lovely thought, an impossible ideal.
Evert is in a quandary. Some people, including Estep, think Evert has never played better. "She's made great strides and Martina has made great strides but because of their styles it doesn't match up well," he said.
Some people think she will never beat Navratilova again and wonder why she continues to try. Over and over they ask, "Is this the end?"
"You mean death?" she says wryly. "Not yet. I love the game."
And so she plays on, content but not sated. What's the motivation? "Perfection," her husband, John Lloyd, said. "She just likes getting better and better. She would like to beat Martina and win a Grand Slam event. I don't think she expects to win every one or even get her No. 1 ranking back. But if she can win one, get into some battles with Martina . . . "
He paused. "She's never had a year in her professional career where she hasn't won at least one Grand Slam event. She doesn't want to end the year ending her sequence."
To that end, Evert has done what arrogance has prevented so many other champions from doing: she has adjusted her game. "With 80 or 90 percent of the players, she can win by keeping the ball in play longer," said her coach, Dennis Ralston. "It's been difficult to get her to change that . . . But she can't beat her trying to pass her from three feet inside the base line."
She has willed herself to undo years of finely honed instinct. "The hardest thing is mental," she said. "When you've played a certain way for 23 years. I've been so conditioned to hit ground strokes, to hit a ball and move back, instead of moving up."
If Navratilova forced Evert to venture forward, Evert forced Navratilova to solidify her ground strokes. "I think basically Martina used to be a serve-and-volleyer and she had weak ground strokes," Evert said.
" . . . I find that when I'm playing well, I'm playing better than I ever have. But I have a few more inconsistent days this year. I remember when I was 21 or 22, I never played a bad match. I played one bad match a year. I played the same way and I never made any errors.
" . . . I feel I'm in better shape than I ever have been. I'm moving well. I'm moving faster than I did. I was probably 15 pounds heavier when I was dominating women's tennis. Probably back five or six years ago, I would just try to play steady tennis and win, 6-0, 6-0."
She stopped and corrected herself. "That sounds conceited," she said. "Make that love and two. Now with Martina playing so well, I probably take a few more chances in early rounds because in the back of my mind I'm thinking if I make it to the final round, I know what shots I can use and they've been practiced."
This week, she has gladly taken a back seat to yet another player, her husband, who will play Connors in the quarterfinals tomorrow.
She has never seen so much tennis. "Obviously, not because John has not done this well," she said, smiling proudly. "I think yesterday was a killer because I was here from nine in the morning until nine at night but it was worth every minute of it. I've never been an observer of tennis. It's interesting. You can learn a few things. You can look at the players' faces in a pressure situations and relate to how they feel."
Just as you can look at her face and see the contentment. "Everybody grows," her husband said. "I think she's maybe learned a little more about herself in the last six months. Before, she's almost been on automatic pilot. Not that she was programed, but everything was mapped out. She needed to spend a little time to see what she wanted. I think she's found that and is more contented in life.
"I think she probably likes herself more. When so many things are written, it hard's to look down inside and say, 'This is really me.' She's happy with herself."
Once, tennis was an obsession. Now, she isn't willing to forgo the occasional piece of chocolate cake, the night off. "Now she knows there are a lot of other things in life as well," Lloyd said. "As long as she gives it the full go, she'll be happy whatever happens."