Why Chris Quit Tennis


If you’re a 25-year-old, world-famous multimillionaire blissfully married to the man of your dreams and life still seems like a boarded-up amusement park, something is wrong. For Chris Evert Lloyd, the problem was dismally simple: It was the way she earned her living. Two weeks ago in Cincinnati, she lost her third tennis match in as many weeks to 17-year-old Tracy Austin—this one a 56-minute, straight-set drubbing. Even worse, the legendary Chris, for six years the cool-handed killer of the women’s tour, didn’t seem to care. Next day she released a terse, three-sentence statement that she was giving up tennis in March—maybe forever. “I feel burned out,” Chris explains now. “I don’t enjoy winning, and I don’t enjoy losing. I just don’t enjoy playing anymore. I’m never going to play again unless I get the old eagerness and desire back. I don’t know if I ever will. This is the toughest decision of my life, but it’s something I have to do.”

The potential loss to tennis is serious; as one of the great women players in history, Chris has always drawn big crowds. “The tour will get along fine without me,” she insists. She is even more certain of the reverse. Her life demonstrates just how elusive the golden mean between a successful, demanding career and a fulfilling private life can be. The moral of her story is not a happy one. “Chris has always played the best tennis when she’s unhappy,” says Martina Navratilova, who replaced Chris as the top-seeded woman player. “Once she met John she started to be very content and happy, and she lost the edge.” The reference is to John “Pretty Boy” Lloyd, 25, Britain’s No. 2-ranked player and Chris’ husband of nearly 10 months. “I really do feel fulfilled by John and our life together,” Chris says. “Last year I couldn’t get psyched up. I kept dismissing it, thinking, ‘I’m married now, and this is a period of adjustment, and I’ll work it out.’ But I don’t think it’s going to change. I feel we could be doing something more meaningful. My priorities are different. My marriage is more important than tennis.”

John Lloyd became the center courtship of her life almost from the moment they met in the tearoom of the All England Club at Wimbledon in 1978. “Something hit me,” Chris recalls with a grin. It did not seem an opportune moment for romance. Earlier in the year, exhausted by the circuit and on the verge of a breakdown, Chris had taken four months off and had to fight her way back to the Wimbledon finals. Shortly after meeting Lloyd, she lost the championship to Navratilova. A few hours later she was dancing with John at Tramp’s in London and feeling “ecstatic.” Normally she would have been in a blue funk. “I knew there was something special,” John recalls, “everything clicked so well.” His game too began to falter. “I’ve had nothing on my mind but Chris,” he admitted in late 1978 as he fell deeper in love and the rankings. “For the first time in my life tennis has been pushed into second place. I’ve had some low spots, but nothing like this.”

By then they were engaged. At the time of their wedding last April, Lloyd had slipped from 25th in the world to 168th. Chris, winner of every major title except the Australian Open (including two Wimbledons and four straight U.S. Opens), had slipped behind Navratilova. “Chris took too many weeks off to be with me,” says John, “and vice versa. There was no practicing, and you just can’t do that.”

There was no thought of recrimination. “Losing never affected our relationship,” says Chris, “and we never blamed each other for our losses.” Rather, they have concentrated on domestic victories: Chris has learned to cook, brew a proper pot of English tea and watch soccer without yawning; John, as he promised, has learned to drive. Splitting their time between his flat in Wimbledon and her family’s homes in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Springs, they’ve adopted the traditional division of household labor—he takes out the garbage and helps with the heavy cleaning, she does everything else. They disagree about .children, and little else; she wants two or three, he wants three or four.

That harmony is rooted in strikingly similar backgrounds, though they grew up 4,500 miles apart. Both of their fathers were professional tennis players whose careers were cut short by World War II. Both John and Chris were coached from very early childhood on. (John’s two brothers are pros and, until her recent marriage, Chris’ sister Jeanne was too.) Turning pro as teenagers, the newlyweds traded an education for the travel and riches of the circuit. Neither has relinquished the habit of cautious thrift. Their only indulgences are first-class travel and three videotape recorders—one each in England, Florida and California—to make sure they don’t miss their favorite TV programs (General Hospital and other soaps for her, reruns of Star Trek and All in the Family for him).

Though Chris is quitting tennis, the Lloyds will have no financial worries. Her income has averaged $1 million a year for several years; his is about $150,000, and both have left it to their fathers to invest the money wisely. She endorses Wilson rackets, Converse shoes and her own line of tennis clothing; John lends his name and dazzling good looks to Pony shoes, Slazenger tennis rackets and clothing. They are rich enough to turn other commercial offers away. “What’s the difference between earning $1 million and $2 million?” asks Chris. “We don’t even use the one million.” A premarital agreement on keeping their incomes separate never occurred to them. “Whatever I’ve earned goes toward us,” says Chris. For John it could be no other way: “Signing pieces of paper and all that nonsense in the States seems silly to me—everybody is so suspicious of each other nowadays.”

Although the British press has inevitably dubbed him “Mr. Chris Evert,” Lloyd insists that her success has never threatened him. Curiously, as her interest in tennis ebbs, his seems to be growing stronger. John is practicing six hours a day with Dennis Ralston, a former top-ranked U.S. player and now a coach. “I’m more disciplined, but he’s the more gifted athlete,” says Chris. “Technically he’s not very good, but he’s taking his whole game apart to correct that.” John tends to be lazy, she adds, and to skimp on practice time. “You need someone who really cares to prod you,” she says. “But I want to be his wife first and foremost, not his trainer.”

Chris will probably postpone a final decision on her career until this summer. “I talked it over with Rosie [Casals],” she says, “and she thinks I should stop now and never do what I don’t want to do. But she predicts that I’ll be back in the fall.” Chris’ mother, Colette, remains neutral, though she admits that if her daughter is entertaining thoughts of Total Motherhood, “she might get restless after three months.” In any case Chris thinks she will wait a year or two before having children. “Neither of us wants Chris to have a baby and then return to the circuit,” says John. “It would be awkward.”

For the moment her family feelings will be directed at him alone. “Maybe this layoff will help John,” Chris says, “because I’ll be there to encourage him now, whereas before I was worried about my own game. I’ll be focusing completely on him.” Yet she thinks of his career as she thinks about her own: Tennis is not the point at all. “If he wanted to quit tomorrow, I couldn’t care less,” she says. “The most important thing is to be happy.”

Related Articles