Hana Mandlikova has earned a reputation as the most talented flake in women's tennis. The 24-year-old from Prague turned pro at 16, won her first Grand Slam tournament at 18 and went into her first prolonged funk at 20.
She has had a career beset with injuries, has developed a playing style marked by brilliance and chaos, and has shaped an image of a sharp-tongued wise mouth.
She is often called the most gifted athlete on the tour. She has won the U.S., Australian and French Opens. But she is also variously known as a choker, a space cadet and a player lacking in fundamental knowledge of the game.
That may all be changing. On Saturday, Mandlikova upset Chris Evert Lloyd, 6-3, 7-5, in the semifinals of the Virginia Slims Championships at New York. She's plays Martina Navratilova in today's final.
Mandlikova, formerly known as hard-hearted Hana, has made almost as many errors in press conferences as on the court. She's the one who pronounced Evert Lloyd and Navratilova too old to play well any longer.
That was at Wimbledon in 1984. At the same tournament Mandlikova stalked off the court after losing in the semifinals to Lloyd. The Czech did not curtsy to the royal box, as is the custom, nor did she attend a postmatch press conference, as required under the Women's Tennis Assn. rules.
Lloyd called Mandlikova's actions unprofessional, saying: "There's no love lost for Hana among any of the players."
It was a big year for Mandlikova, foot-in-mouth-wise. Her comments about Carling Bassett during the 1984 U.S. Open dug her in deeper.
"She really doesn't care if she wins or loses," Mandlikova said. "She has nothing to worry about--her father has millions. If she loses, so what?"
Bassett's father, John, owns a Canadian brewery as well as the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United State Football League.
Mandlikova was sincerely bewildered by the fuss. She was, after all, just being honest. The lesson for her was that diplomacy is the best policy in professional tennis.
"I had a misunderstanding with the press two or three years ago," she said in a telephone interview from New York. "I was speaking my mind. Now I know that's not the best. There are few people in this world who really say what they mean. I still say what I think, but now I'm more diplomatic. I think that's best."
Since beating Navratilova decisively at the 1985 U.S. Open, Mandlikova has shown that her concentration is better and her shot selection has improved. Credit that to her coach, Betty Stove. Stove, the former pro from the Netherlands, has worked with Mandlikova for five years.
"She has helped me tremendously," Mandlikova said of the jovial Stove. "She helped me through the bad times when I did not believe in myself. I had to learn percentage tennis, that was my main problem. I learned how to play the right shot at the right time. The unbelieveable shots will always come. I have that in me."
Before, Mandlikova's brilliance surfaced in flashes, followed by slews of unforced errors. Like her countryman, Ivan Lendl, Mandlikova seemed mentally unable to win the big matches.
"I don't like to have to defend myself," she said. "Every player has a label; one is a choker, one is a quitter. They said of Evonne Goolagong that she was erratic, but she won Grand Slam titles and was a beautiful player. Sometimes, I don't think I get enough credit."
After being ranked No. 3 for three years, Mandlikova is down to No. 5. The slip occurred, in part, because of a shoulder injury Mandlikova suffered in Japan. She was out of tennis for seven weeks and is in her fourth week back.
"I feel great," she said. "You lose some of your confidence being away. But I think it's going to be better now."
Tennis Notes Tom Gorman must be doing something right with the U.S. Davis Cup team. The rookie captain presided over the team's 3-2 victory over Ecuador in the first round last week. To hear the players tell it, what Gorman is doing is working the team--hard.
"I never worked so hard in my life in practice as I did the first few days," Jimmy Arias said. Gorman has made it clear since his selection this year that things were going to be different than under former captain Arthur Ashe. "Tom was very strict with the players," doubles player Robert Seguso said. "He got down here early. He practiced us hard with the drills. It was really good for the players."
Said Ken Flach, Seguso's doubles partner: "Arthur was a lot more mellow. Tom eats and sleeps this Davis Cup match."
And wins. Gorman made the decision to let Brad Gilbert, No. 10 in the world, sit on the bench. Gorman said he put his three singles players through a series of challenge matches and that both Arias and Aaron Krickstein beat Gilbert. The U.S. win on clay may help the Americans' reputation on the slow surface. "There's always a little bit of criticism of our play on clay lately," Gorman said. I hope this will give them a ton of confidence."
After his win over Miloslav Mecir in the semifinals of a tournament at Milan last week, Ivan Lendl revealed that he keeps a journal that details his matches against first-time opponents. His entry for Mecir: "He plays in a very strange way. He plays angles that aren't here." . . . For the first time in the history of the Virginia Slims Championships, the Soviet Union had representatives in doubles. The team of Svetlana Parkhomenko and Larissa Savachenko upset the fourth-seeded team of Barbara Jordan and Elizabeth Smylie in the first round but lost in the semifinals to Claudia Kohde-Kilsch and Helena Sukova. They were having a fine time in New York, reported the Soviet coach, Olga Morozova. Morozova was the last great Soviet woman player. She lost to Chris Evert Lloyd in the singles final at Wimbledon in 1974. "They have to prove to themselves that they are good players," Morozova said. "If they believe they can play, they have a chance to win."
Local juniors abound in the Easter Bowl Tournament starting Monday in Miami. The prestigious tournament has 34 players from Southern California. Seeded players from the region are: Michael Chang of La Costa, No. 2 in boys' 16, Deborah Graham of Fountain Valley, No. 2 in girls' 16, Jon Leach of Laguna Beach, No. 6 in boys' 14, Krista Amend of Rolling Hills Estates, No. 5 in girls' 16, Giroa Payes of Los Angeles, No. 5 in boys' 16, Noelle Porter of San Clemente, No. 12 in girls' 18, Laxmi Poruri of Upland, No. 3 in girls' 14, Veena Prabhaker of Bonita, No. 7 in girls' 14 and Willy Quest of Long Beach, No. 10 in boys' 16.