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Book Review: "Dear John", by John Lloyd, reveals dramatic triumphs and disasters—along with inspiring resilience
Several chapters open with Lloyd writing a letter to himself, reflecting on education, Wimbledon, celebrity, parenthood and his former spouse, Chris Evert.
Published Oct 20, 2022
Rock and roll has the ‘60s, a long-cherished era of change, when a lively new form of music burst into public consciousness with color, sound, fashion and all the sizzle of those early years that continues to echo loudly.
Tennis’ long-cherished era came a decade later. In the ‘70s, the sport made a radical transformation from all-white acoustic garden party to a technicolor carnival of clutter, commerce and commotion.
During those lively tennis boom years, which stretched well into the ‘80s, John Lloyd was smack in the center of it all. As Great Britain’s best player, he naturally commanded ample headlines during Wimbledon, along the way becoming friends with such cultural icons as Princess Diana and Elton John. Lloyd’s public profile expanded even more when he married Chris Evert in 1979. Most central to Lloyd’s journey was that he competed versus all the greats of his time, including Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis. A finalist at the 1977 Australian Open, Lloyd reached a career high ranking of No. 23 the following year, and won three Grand Slam mixed doubles titles alongside Australian Wendy Turnbull.
This year marked the publication of Lloyd’s autobiography, a collaboration with veteran journalist Phil Jones. Titled Dear John, the book deploys an innovative technique, several chapters opening with Lloyd writing a letter to himself, reflecting on the subject he’s about to address. Topics include education, Wimbledon, celebrity, parenthood and Evert.
“It’s best not to waste time trying to get a handle on fame,” writes Lloyd in his letter on celebrity. “You won’t work it out. Instead, just go with the flow. Keep your head down when the going gets tough.”
Lloyd worked hard to become a pro. As a child, he traveled extensively to compete all over Great Britain. By his late teens, Lloyd was good enough to be briefly trained by Australian great Lew Hoad. The excellent tennis career Lloyd built for himself helped create many opportunities, including work as a broadcaster for the likes of the BBC and HBO, a stint as Great Britain’s Davis Cup captain, and other star-studded activities that accompany the life of an accomplished professional athlete (including a friendship with Donald Trump). Throughout the book, Lloyd describes many of these moments with deft humor and insight, be it an early morning practice session with Connors, a near-win versus Borg, or what happens behind the scenes in television.
The quintessential tale of Lloyd’s playing career is arguably his 1977 Aussie Open run, a swashbuckling, candle-burning fortnight alongside Gerulaitis defined by hard work in daylight—including a remarkable rain-splattered practice session—evening adventures, and, eventually, these two mates facing one another in a final that Gerulaitis won in five sets.
Yet for all the fun times Lloyd describes, the strength of Dear John is his willingness to hold himself accountable—and juxtapose his own choices with what he learned first-hand from tennis’ titans.
In the wake of coming one victorious set short of earning a Grand Slam singles title, John Barrett, the man Lloyd refers to as “my long-time friend, mentor and tennis guru,” told Lloyd he had the chance to double-down on his work ethic and get even better—or be happy with what he’d accomplished and remain in the same place.
Writes Lloyd, “Of course, being me, I took the second option. I was enjoying myself too much . . . I know deep down there were only a couple of times I my career I worked to my capacity . . . I will always regret that. I tell young guys coming through now how important it is to work as hard as you can: to never have to live with regret on that score.”
In contrast, Lloyd saw first-hand how Evert addressed the various forks in her road. Flying from London to Florida with her the day after Evert had lost the 1980 Wimbledon final, Lloyd suggested they take a couple of weeks off. Not Evert.
“It proved to be the farthest thing from a holiday,” writes Lloyd. “We got home, gathered our tennis gear and went straight to the practice courts.”
By summer’s end, Evert had won the US Open and soon regained the world No. 1 ranking.
Alas, Lloyd learned the hard way that in a sport as singularly competitive as tennis that it’s impossible to merely stay in the same place. By early 1981, his ranking had plummeted to No. 356. One defining moment came in the first round of that year’s US Open, when an injured and out-of-shape Lloyd met Connors.
“I was in that phase of my career where loss followed loss and was on the brink of a lowly ranking that would have resigned me to qualifying for tournaments,” writes Lloyd, who would go on to lose that match, 6-0, 6-0, 6-2. Eventually, Lloyd deeply devoted himself to tennis, by 1984 making his way back inside the Top 25.
That capacity for resilience further surfaces in Dear, John when Lloyd describes his son’s drug problem. Writes Lloyd, “To see this fantastic kid abusing himself with a substance to the point he didn’t know what day it was had a punishing effect on all of us.” (Eventually, all worked out and the young man is now thriving.)
Lloyd also faced his own health scare in the form of a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Here too, Lloyd faced the problem head-on (disclosure: he mentions me in the book as one of several fellow prostate cancer survivors he sought out for advice), took appropriate action, and fully recovered.
From the tennis court and beyond, through triumph and disaster, John Lloyd has lived well, one point at a time.