The British tennis No.1 who couldn't stomach it
What would get your stomach churning? Playing for your country in the Davis Cup or picking the team as non-playing captain? John Lloyd knows a bit about both. Unfortunately, he knows a lot about churning stomachs too.
John Lloyd is worried. Tonight — 7 August 2007 - Britain's number one tennis player Andy Murray returns to competition for the first time since a wrist injury in May put him out of Wimbledon. As Britain's Davis Cup captain, Lloyd is as apprehensive as anyone.
'The wrist is a tough injury,' he says. 'It's painful and, psychologically, it's difficult to really let it go once you start playing again. There's no question Andy will come back though — it's just a question of when. Of course, I want him for the Davis Cup match with Croatia on 23 September.'
Croatia is a big game — the play-off for the World Group. If Britain win they'll be back with the world's leading tennis nations. Once upon a time this sort of stress could have reduced John — or more particularly his stomach — to debilitating pain and cramps.
'I've had a dodgy stomach as long as I can remember,' he says, 'even as a child. Once I became a professional tennis player at 16 and I was travelling a lot it got worse. Two or three times a week I'd have these agonising cramps. It was worse at times of stress.'
Did it affect his game? The final of the Australian Open in 1977, for example, when he went down in five sets to Vitas Gerulitas?
'No, it never really happened on the court. I think the adrenalin kicks in and takes over. I certainly never had to leave the court. You couldn't then, anyway.
'I think where it did impact on my game is in the general energy levels. If you're up all night with stomach pains you're not getting the sleep you need. Had I found a treatment while I was a player, I doubt I'd have shot up the rankings but it would have taken a lot off my mind and reduced my fatigue.'
Lloyd is too modest to say it but it's hard not to wonder. He reached the Australian final at 23 and had his highest singles ranking — 21 — at the age of 24. Relatively young. As he got older he had more success at the shorter three set version of the game teaming up with Wendy Turnbull of Australia to win the mixed doubles at the French Open and twice at Wimbledon. Less fatigue and, as he was part of a team, less stress? Who knows.
Typical male, Lloyd didn't do anything about the gut problem until, as he puts it, his wife 'put her foot down'.
'My first wife Chris Evert became worried about me as the attacks got worse. We were having to leave parties early — sometimes we wouldn't even get there — because I would have an onset of the cramps. Going out for dinner was a nightmare. Eventually even I was convinced that I needed to see a doctor.'
John had all the usual tests and nothing came up. 'Of course in those days Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Ulcerative Colitis hadn't really been identified.' He wondered whether the whole thing was all in his mind. As the husband of a tennis legend he was very much in the public eye and he was living on indigestion tablets — several a day — which he knew was not a long-term solution.
'When you marry some who is more successful than you it can be difficult for the male ego but if you can't accept it you shouldn't get married. A lot has been written about it but it wasn't a problem for me. Men's and women's tennis are very different anyway.
'I actually think I handled the fame aspect quite well. As the British number one I was used to being well-known in Britain so the sort of attention Chris and I got from the media wasn't a complete surprise. I just think we married too young and all the travel for our careers meant we didn't spend enough time together.'
The gut problem eased a little once he retired from professional tennis in 1986 and divorced in 1987.
All in the mind? Unfortunately not, the problem came back with a vengeance in the 1990s but again the tests turned up nothing serious.
The turning point, when it came, could not have been simpler. 'Someone at a party recommended a particular brand of probiotics,' he recalls. 'My wife Deborah is into complementary therapies but I'm pretty cynical. But then when I heard a DJ I liked mention the same pills on his talk show, I thought, well, I'd give them a go. After a month I was better. That was ten years ago.
'I take them religiously and I can't remember the last time I took an indigestion tablet. I feel much better, like they've cleaned out my whole system. I still avoid very spicy food but I can pretty much go anywhere now. They certainly would have helped in the early days on the satellite circuit and for Davis Cup when you were often playing in places where it was difficult to watch your diet.' (More on Probiotics)
Given his history of gut problems, John's Wikipedia entry makes for interesting reading. The writer claims that as a commentator 'Lloyd is known for his trademark catchphrases, using the analogy of food and drink to describe tennis shots. For example, if a shot is too weak he will claim that it was "undercooked" or "needed more mustard."'
Something Freudian in that? 'Could be,' says John. 'At least I can eat mustard these days.'
Eventually I am obliged to ask the question that everyone has been asking for as long as I've been interested in tennis: when is Britain going to produce another champion?
'Andy Murray could be one. He's better than I ever was and I think he can handle the pressure. If he does win a slam — and I definitely think he can — he could turn the game round. One of the problems with British tennis is that it is still seen as elitist — Wimbledon, great tournament that it is, adds to that with its strawberries and cream image. Murray's not like that and he could make a huge difference in bringing the game to all sections of society.'
Does a bit of sibling rivalry between Andy and his older brother Jamie help push players? A bit like you with your older brother David?
'Jamie and Andy are much closer in age than David and I. One's a doubles specialist and the other singles. If you're not directly competing, it's more supportive than anything else. I think they're good for each other. Andy can't bear to watch Jamie play.' (Maybe he's jealous of all those kisses from Jamie's mixed doubles partner Jelena Jankovic.)
Will the Davis Cup team be up the spout if Murray's not fit?
'Three of them do pick themselves,' says John. 'Andy and Tim Henman in the singles and Jamie in the doubles but I like to have five players so there are at least two slots up for grabs.'
Andy Murray won his comeback match in Montreal but was knocked out in the next round. Will he be ready for Croatia? What will happen when Henman retires as he has said he will after the Croatia match? John Lloyd's sleeping on it.
- John Lloyd takes Natren Healthy Trinity probiotics (£59.95 for 30 capsules; £129.95 for 90). We don't recommend products on malehealth and aren't about to change the policy.
- However, probiotics clearly help some people and are largely side-effect free (apart from a bit of farting in some cases - though not, he assures us, in John's).
- Click here for more information on probiotics
- Let us know what you think of probiotics.
Page created on September 1st, 2007
Page updated on May 11th, 2011