"Queen Of The Courts"
Seven Years Ruling the Tennis Throne...
|Chris Evert was born on December 21, 1954 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
and was hitting tennis balls across the public clay courts of that city by
the time she was only 5 years old. Her father, Jimmy Evert, was working 7
days a week as the tennis pro at Holiday Park (since renamed the Jimmy Evert
Tennis Center) and looking for ways to be closer to his children. Tossing
tennis balls out of a shopping cart, he taught little Chrissie and her four
siblings the basics of tennis, with hand-me-down
I remember him saying Racquet back, turn sideways, step in when you hit the ball and I remembered those three (fundamental) things forever, says Chris in retrospect.
Another thing he taught her, which later became a trademark shot that influenced generations of players to emulate her, was the two-handed backhand. A powerful drive shot, the two-handed was supposed to be a temporary compensation, Jimmy Evert says, because she was too small and weak to swing the backhand with one hand. I had hoped she would change. And she did. Not the stroke, but the way tennis was played. (Today, over 70% of the top 100 pros use a two-handed backhand.)
Indeed, a fine teacher he must have been, because all 5 of his children went on to win National Juniors Championships. But part of the Evert childrens tennis success had to do with having each other to play with. Having siblings definitely helps you improve your game, Chris says, Just look at the McEnroes and the Williams - of course, it helps.
For one thing, it made her mentally stronger having to compete with her sister, who she didnt like to beat. She had to focus on playing the ball instead of her sister, says sister Claire Evert. If she could focus only on the ball, then her sister could become just another player, and then she could block out any other distractions to focus on winning every single point. One thing that makes Chris such a great champion, Billie Jean King said, is that she doesnt play games or sets, she plays points.
Her extreme ability to isolate each individual point helped build a very tough killer instinct. Chris once distilled the killer instinct to its basic roots, defining it simply as feeling that, at that moment, there is nothing more important than winning the next point.
Having a father be the local teaching pro, with constant access to nearby tennis courts and sibling players to hit and compete with, was the first stamp of destiny in the Chris Evert story. But certainly the second was in going to a tennis clinic given by Maureen Connolly (the Chris Evert of her era) when Chrissie was just 10 years old. Evert got to hit with Connolly, who afterward mentioned positive aspects of Chris (very early) play as an example to the other kids. Like a Nod from one of the Great Elders, this inspired young Chris to keep moving forward with full belief in the possibilities the game of tennis had to offer her.
And by the 8th grade, through hard work and endless hours of dedication and sacrifice, Chrissie had matured into a focused competitor, and became the #1 nationally ranked player in the Girls 14-under Division. As soon as you win that first trophy or tournament, its all worth it, Evert said. You feel great about yourself. Tennis helped give me an identity and made me feel like somebody.
This feeling can only have increased when, a year later, in 1970, 15-year old pony-tailed amateur Christine Marie Evert bounced into a small tournament in North Carolina and defeated the number one ranked womens professional player in the world, Margaret Court, by the score of 7-6 7-6. Court had just recently completed her Grand Slam, a feat that had been accomplished only 5 times in the history of the sport. It was the first tournament Chris had ever gone to without her parents. When she phoned her father to tell him what had happened, he fell on the floor and needed to be told 4 times before his ears allowed the news to reach his brain. Understandably, this is still one of Chrissies most cherished wins.
The kid had arrived. But there were greater arrivals up ahead.
|Next arrival: Forest Hills, 1971. It was the
US Open, one of the Big Four tournaments on the Pro Tennis circuit,
and Chrissies mother, Colette, came along to keep her daughter company.
(Little did she know that this would become a full-time job for the next
20 years!) Still an amateur player, Evert barreled through to the semifinals
of the 120-player Grand Slam tournament, upsetting
3 seeded players on the way, and becoming the youngest player ever to reach
the semifinals of the US Open, and the first 16-year-old to do so in 20
years; the first, in fact, since Maureen Connolly.
All of the ladies I beat that year at the Open left the court in tears, Evert remembers of her walloped opponents.
Back then, there werent several (players) that were 14, 15, 16 years old, like nowadays, Colette Evert recalls. Chris was the only young one on the tour.
It was certainly her age, but more so her resolve (and all the upsets she caused!) that catapulted young Evert into national public awareness. You could not put Evert anywhere but in the Big Room, from the very start, says Bud Collins, the NBC commentator for the 71 US Open. The network realized immediately she was going to draw a crowd. From the 2nd round, all of Everts matches were played on Center Court.
She finally lost in the semifinal round to the #1 seed and eventual champion, Billie Jean King. But she returned to her high school classmates in Fort Lauderdale, a heroine. And like an inclandestine first meeting with the future love of your life, Evert had likewise let the whole tennis world know that there was a new girl in town. From this first appearance on the scene, Evert would thrill crowds in stadiums across the globe with her perseverance, bravery, and perfect court demeanour, which set a standard of placing personal integrity on par with the value of winning in defining the heart of a champion.
Jimmy Connors was the first to reach the heart of the champion, becoming engaged to Chris in the Winter of 1973. Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors were young, attractive, in love, and both at the top of the tennis world, each winning the respective mens and ladies Wimbledon 1974 Singles crowns. They shared the Champions dance and made headlines about The Love Match the world-over with their wedding engagement announced for October. Then, the fairytale engagement was called off, although they did stay together and became re-engaged.
|But by early 1976, all bets were off. The desire on both of their parts
to be number 1 in the world was greater than their desire for either to give
up their careers for domestication. The time (and separate world travel)
necessary to reach their goal of being world champion competitors demanded
a sacrifice, and in this case, it was each other.
If I were to pick a first love, he would definitely be my pick, Evert says of Connors, even 25 years later, because a little bit of that influence (of your first love) stays with you throughout your life. Were still good friends. International Tennis writer Peter Bodo says of the pairing, It was a match made in Heaven, not on Earth, which is probably why it didnt last.
Meanwhile, Evert had turned pro in December of 1972 on the occasion of her 18th birthday, and at that time signed a contract with Wilson tennis racquets on her parents front porch. Neither Chris nor Wilsons loyalty to each other ever swayed throughout her entire professional playing career, until the very last ball was struck at the end of the 1989 Federation Cup finals victory over Conchita Martinez.
At the close of 1974, Evert had become 1 of only 3 players (with Court and King) to ever win 100 matches in a single season, a record which still stands today. The following year, she was only 6 matches shy of repeating the feat. Also during her mammoth 1974 season, she won 55 consecutive matches, a record which lasted 10 years. And the winnings were dizzying. She won Wimbledon in 1974, 1976, and 1981. She won the US Open 6 of 8 years between 1975 and 1982, and at one point won four consecutive (1975-1978), becoming the first woman since the 1930s to do so. She won a record 7 French championships beginning with back to back titles in 1974 and 75, and took the Australian Open title in 1982 and 84. But of her 18 Grand Slam singles titles, it is the second one, following the French title, at Wimbledon 1974, that a daughters father would remember the most.
While Jimmy Connors eyes had been firmly fixed on Chris during the Wimbledon 74 finals victory, father Jimmy Evert was at home in Fort Lauderdale, because he got too nervous from the tension of watching his daughters fate hang in the balance, from point to point, when she played. There was no live TV in 1974, Jimmy Evert remembers. She was to call right after the match. So just about an hour had gone by and the phone rings. I pick it up and I just hear this little voice say, I won! and I was silent. So Chris said, Dad, are you alright? But I was so choaked up. Just imagine your 19-year-old daughter calling you from England telling you that she had just won Wimbledon.
Being dubbed The Ice Princess by the English press when she arrived at Wimbledon in 1972 as a school girl, all the winning came with a price. At the time, the term suggested that Chris was somehow cold, ruthless, and heartless - which she absolutely was, on court. But when her underdog status changed to being the number one player in the world, as she was in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1978, the crowds cooled on Cool Chris.
|But the victories continued, especially on clay, where she
won every match she played over a 6 year period, covering 125 straight matches
in 24 tournaments.
I was hungry to win every point, Evert says. It was all about What am I going to eat before my match, how much sleep am I going to get, who am I going to beat?
In 1976, Evert became the first tennis player to reach the $1 million mark in career prize money. Thats without having collected her earnings prior to 1973 when she played as an amateur in order to finish high school.
When she won the 1972 Slims Championships at 17, for instance, she had to decline $25,000 prize money, which was quite a lot in 1972, if youre not the type to think its a lot today.
The gruel of life on the tour definitely affected Chris emotionally, but she kept it out of her tennis for the most part. But in 1978, she had the good fortune to read an article about how lonely life was on the tennis tour, which was written by a stunningly handsome English male player. His name was John Lloyd. They met, found an instant chemistry existed between them, and were quite serious about their romantic involvement by the time Wimbledon rolled around later that summer. Chris played some uncharacteristically non-challant games near the end of the match in the finals, and allowed Martina Navratilova to climb back into contention late in the 3rd set after being up 4-2, and lost the title 2-6 6-4 7-5. Lloyd naturally expected Chris to be too upset to go out for dinner that night, as they had planned, but when Chrissie said, Are you kidding? Of course I want to go out! he knew it must be love.
The couple married in April 1979.
John Lloyd took over coaching duties of his new wife, relieving father Jimmy Evert of his previous post. And with the distractions of a life outside of tennis, there was an adjustment period which included relinquishing the number one ranking to Navratilova in 1979, and of not being particularly pleased with her play. So with the coming of the 1980 season, Chris gained a new awareness of choices.
|She didnt have to play tennis out of necessity, because she could
just as easily settle down with John. But she knew the choice she wanted
to make was to play, and realize her potentials as an all-time great champion.
No longer from necessity, but from desire. Chris Evert-Lloyd, as she was
to be known, took the French and US titles that year, and in 1981, became
number 1 in the world again.
[Pictured left, Chris Evert-Lloyd wins Wimbledon in 1981.]
One of her major wins that year was probably a bit of a mixed blessing. She had already made a fair habit of beating rival Martina Navratilova since their first meeting in 1973, but in 1981, having won by double their head-to-head meetings, Evert handed Navratilova the heaviest humbling of her career, 6-0 6-0 in the Amelia Island finals in front of a nation-wide audience on NBC TV.
This shook Martina, who had already taken large strides to become a more physically fit player and improve her consistency in vying for the number 1 ranking. But now she really had to face that finishing the job meant building her mental confidence, stamina, and clarity. And it was her destiny to do this to a degree that would forever change the world of womens tennis.
The change in Navratilova was likewise to bring about the greatest challenge to Everts identity as a champion. Martina was two years younger, had switched to graphite while Chris still paddled away with her Wilson wood, was in the best shape a female athlete had ever been in, and as tennis analyst and commentator Mary Carillo put it, Chris can take a perverse pleasure in the fact that the architects that designed Martinas game had Chris (game) in mind. Martina was specifically gunning for Chris, and was hungry for the kind of dominance that Chris had already been enjoying for the last 10 years.
Martina completely dominated womens tennis from 1983 through 1984, handing Chris a daunting 2-year draught in their head-to-head meetings, with Martina winning 13 consecutive matches. Evert had beaten Martina in 15 of 17 matches between the Spring of 1975 and the end of 77, but losing in that manner was completely alien to Chris. However, 13 did prove to be the unluckiest of numbers, even for one of Navratilovas stature, as Chris was to break the chain of loses in their next meeting.
After a near-win in the 84 US Open final against Navratilova 4-6 6-4 6-4, the 13th consecutive loss, the two rivals played in an exhibition match in the Midwest, and Chris charged net at every opportunity, beating Martina convincingly, 6-2 6-4. As the 1984 season closed, with the Australian Open, Evert won her 1000th career match, the first player ever to do so, and then won the title, furthering her string of consecutive years winning a Grand Slam event to 11; a string that would reach a record 13. (Perhaps 13 is a number that always plays the role of streak-ender!)
In any case, it all represented a change in fortune for Evert. She next met Martina again in January 1985 at a tournament in Key Biscayne, and this time it was not an exhibition, but for the record: she won again in a 6-2 6-4 repeat of her earlier victory.
|Then, four months later, in June, Chris took her second Grand
Slam in a row, again beating Martina in one of the most dramatic and well-played
matches in womens tennis history, winning the French Open 6-3 6-7 7-5.
This victory tied Chris for the all-time record for victories at the French
(She broke the record the following year, beating Martina again 2-6 6-3 6-3
in another long, dramatic final for her 7th French crown), but in addition,
Chris regained the worlds number one ranking back from Navratilova.
Many people missed what that match meant. It wasnt just that Chris had beaten Martina again or had won another Grand Slam, tennis analyst and coach Andy Brandi was to say at the time, It was so much more than that: The Queen was back on the Throne. There wasnt a dry eye in the place.
Indeed, that was the romance of it, and Chris would hold the ranking until the final month of the year. It would be her final stay at the top, at age 31. But the Throne was forever hers. Adding honor to achievement in 1985, the Womens Sports Foundation named Evert the Greatest Woman Athlete of the Last 25 Years.
While Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf would each hold the #1 ranking until Evert retired, she played both players almost evenly from 1985 to her retirement in 1989, even while being 2 years older than Navratilova, and nearly twice Grafs, with a game that relied on mental consistency (which would deteriorate with age much quicker than would the physical side of the game.) And admittedly, and happily so, by 1987 Chris was certainly not sitting silently in a room the night before each match focusing only on her playing strategy for the next day; this was not the Ice Princess of old.
Still Chris was inevitably thankful to Navratilova for the great struggles of their rivalry because it prolonged her career, gave her something to strive for, and - while Chris pushed Martina to develop the mental side of her game, and improve her patience and ground strokes, to reach greatness - Chris would implement a dietary regimine, physical training program, and even switch from her wood racquet to try her hand at both a harder graphite racquet and a more insistent net game to keep up with Martinas pace.
Dennis Ralston, who had been John Lloyds coach, also became Everts coach in 1982 when Chris was initially having problems facing Navratilovas power tactics. The only way youre going to beat Martina is by taking the net away from her, Ralston would tell a reluctant net-rushing Chris. But indeed Ralston made me a better volleyer - more touch, softer hands, Evert says, and helped me with my kick serve.
Another great thing to happen to Evert through her association with Navratilova was to meet her husband of 18 years, Andy Mill. Chris and John Lloyd called their marriage quits late in 1986, Chris says, because of her own stubbornness in her commitment to her tennis, which kept them apart. Absence does not necessarily make the heart grow fonder, she would say, while acknowledging that all the responsibility for the divorce was on her shoulders. Like with Jimmy Connors before him, Chris had ultimately chosen tennis as her first passion, and said flatly, John was perfect. The relationship suffered because I didnt have enough left (after tennis) to give. Thats when we grew apart.
My parents werent speaking to me because they love John so much, Chris reveals, and I was the bad guy. So, says Chris, It was December 28th, 1986, and Martina had kept asking me to go to her house in Aspen, Colorado, so I did it to get away. We went to a New Years Eve party, and thats where I met Andy.
Andy Mill was a dashing US Olympic downhill skier, and the local skiing pro in Aspen. Chris was the worst first time skier Ive ever experienced, with the exception of maybe Reggie Jackson, Mills laughs.
He skied backwards and held my hands all the way down the mountain, Evert says. And indeed he did, helping the Great Queen down from her perch atop the Throne of the tennis world and into her new life, with a gentle, convincing, and reassuring presence that made, what would have been a very difficult transition to make sense of, a fairly easy and natural shift of lifestyle. They married on July 30, 1988 and had 3 children after Chris retired from competitive play in 1989.
When Evert beat Navratilova in a dramatic 3-6 6-1 7-6 victory in Martinas second-home state of Texas in the 1987 Virginia Slims of Houston final, it was the very first tournament without the Lloyd affixed to the end of the legendary name of Evert. Game, set, and match, Chris Evert had been heard for the first time since the 1970s.
Chris Everts final tournament match victory came at the 1989 US Open, the place where her fame began, beating Monica Seles 6-0 6-2 in what was one of the cleanest, most punishingly well-played matches of Chris 20-year career. Then, with straight sets wins in all of her Federation Cup singles matches, Chris closed out the Evert Dynasty and completed her stint as Queen of the Courts with the highest winning percentage, male or female, in tennis history.
|Im so glad I came along when I did, Chris now says, with Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Stan Smith, as role models. And alongside me was Bjorn (Borg), Jimmy (Connors), and Martina. It was the tennis boom. It was personal, we were close to our fans, we had enough money. Now its just a lot different. Its more like a big baseball game. Its probably more professional but I dont see the friendships, I dont see the bonds. I dont see the intimacy that we had.|
Chrissie was a beautiful woman playing a beautiful sport in a beautiful way, and thats why America fell in love with her, said Tom Friend of the Washington Post. But the love and admiration for Evert was definitely felt in every country in the world, perhaps summed up best by International Tennis Federation Vice President, Brian Tobin, who said of Evert, She is not only the lady champion, but a champion lady.
In 1995, Chris Evert was the fourth player ever to be elected unanimously into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She was the sole inductee for that year.
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