NEW YORK — Muffed volleys and dimly lit indoor courts didn't alert Martina Navratilova that she needed glasses.
A physically gifted athlete like the world's No. 1 female tennis player often fails to check such things.
But two losses convinced her something was seriously wrong.
Just 70 days into the 1985 season, Navratilova had lost as many matches as she had during the entire 1984 campaign. For women's tennis, it was one of the best things that could have happened; but for Navratilova, it was just plain disconcerting.
"I've mis-hit more balls in the last few months than I have in my whole life--I just couldn't understand it," said Navratilova. "I'm not blaming my losses on my eyesight, but the way Chris (Evert Lloyd) played in Dallas, I wouldn't have won without them."
Navratilova donned her aviator-style spectacles at the beginning of the Virginia Slims of Dallas tournament last week following her second setback of the year--a 6-7, 0-6 loss to Hana Mandlikova in the U.S. Pro Indoor semifinals.
During that tournament, Navratilova kept asking the other players if the lights were dim.
"They all said the lights were good," she said. "It was then I knew I had a problem."
While cheerfully fending off the catcalls that come with a new look, Navratilova displayed an intense sharpness in Dallas that had been missing in previous matches this year.
In that final, she made short work of Lloyd, 6-3, 6-4, the world's second-ranked player and the only other woman to beat Navratilova in '85.
"It's a new world with the glasses," said Navratilova. "I'm like a kid. I can see blades of grass; I can see across the street.
"Before the glasses, I didn't realize how much I couldn't see," she added. "I thought the lights weren't on full indoors and I had difficulty picking up my first volley."
It was ironic that Navratilova--tennis' first computer athlete--would overlook something as important as her eyes. Her eye-to-hand coordination like that of her male counterpart, John McEnroe, is the best in the game.
And she even eats carrots.
But no amount of conditioning and preventive medicine can alter one's eyesight. On this one, the computer would print out simply--GLASSES.
"Wearing the glasses felt fairly funny for the first three days," said Navratilova. "But I finally adjusted."
After a 6-1, 6-3 first-round triumph over Jo Durie in Dallas, Navratilova walked into the women's locker room and received an unusual greeting.
"Hey, it's Billie Jean," said Lloyd as other players in the room chortled.
Only one other player ranked in the top 50, No. 32 Camille Benjamin, wears eyeglasses on the court.
"It will take a little while for everyone to get used to my new look," said Navratilova. "But I'm not taking them off while I play."
It is a year of change for Navratilova. The adjustments to her early, unexpected losses and to the glasses aren't the only differences in her tennis.
Navratilova has switched sides of the court with long-time doubles partner Pam Shriver.
With just eight losses in 221 matches in their four years as a doubles team, and 45 titles going into these championships, you'd think Navratilova and Shriver would be concerned that such drastic alterations would blemish their delicate balance.
Not so, says Navratilova.
"Pam likes to play the left side (ad court) better," said Navratilova, explaining the move.
"I don't think we'll be any weaker," she added. "If we are, we'll change back."
Since Navratilova is left-handed and Shriver right, it could expose one glaring weakness--Pam's backhand.
"That's one of the reasons we did it," said Shriver. "I wanted to work on my backhand."
Navratilova and Shriver have won their first two tournaments at the new positions, raising their current match winning streak to 89 in a row.