Q: You were honored this year at the US Open (2003) along with other tennis greats like Rod Laver and Billie Jean King, but you and Jimmy Connors were present for having the best records of any of the open-era players at the US Open. That must’ve been nice being there with Connors, with all your memories of the Open.
CE: It was a warm feeling. Everyone made their contributions in some way. Billie Jean was there at the beginning and she’s still pushing hard for women’s tennis. The US Open is where it all started for me. I do remember Jimmy with the fist, the arm, the pelvic thrust. I think of him. He was the US Open. He evoked like savage emotions from people in the stands.
Q: Neither you nor Jimmy have remained as much in the public eye as much as some of your counterparts from the same era like Mac or Martina, or even Billie Jean. Is that mostly a matter of family obligations that not everyone else has, or…
CE: Well, I like not being around a lot of people, having people not stare at me anymore. I like that. Everyday you play a match in front of thousands of people, you’re in the press, on TV. It’s a way of life, no big deal. When you’ve been away from it for eight or nine years, you go back, it’s like, “I can’t believe I used to play in front of 23,000 people!”
Q: Your style of play does seem like an expression of a more inverted, private personality, so it’s interesting that, where you ended up, in world-wide tennis, it made you adjust in a way you might not have otherwise. But your personality also made your tennis more of a thinking endeavor, more than just athleticism, or just tennis. Any other players come to mind whose statement was more than athletic?
CE: Arthur (Ashe). He’s one of the few players that transcends tennis. But the great thing about him was that tennis, it just wasn’t about tennis; win tournaments, grab the money, and go buy a $2 million home. It was about education. It was about helping people that needed help. That was very moving for me.
Q: So you were close to Ashe as much as other Tennis Boom players like Borg, Connors, & Gerulaitis?
CE: From afar, I respected him, looked up to him, his values, dignity, but we were never really friends. Before he died, he sent me a book about women athlete heroes. He signed the whole front of the book, “Chris, you’ve done so much for women’s sports.” After reading it, I was like, “Something is up.” People don’t out of the blue write things like that. Looking back, it was closure. But I love that generation of Arthur and Stan Smith and Eric von Don and Bob Lutz. A lot of spirit, Davis Cup. No egos, more fun, a little more relaxed.
Q: Are there specific dynamics that create that type of mood on the tour, or something that needs to come from the players that creates that sense of exciting rivalries?
CE: I think you have to win some matches, lose some matches, go through adversities, slumps, for you to really come out an interesting person. I almost think the public has to grow up with you a little bit. And that’s my only criticism of women’s tennis, is I think the young players look great, but where are the veterans? Where are the 28, 30, 32 year olds. That’s what’s missing from this era. When I was 34, I was playing Steffi and Monica. When Billie Jean was 34, she was playing me. I think that makes for interesting tennis and rivalries, too.
Q: Things are different now for the up and coming players than when you first made your break-through, obviously. But, any thoughts looking back on that 1971 US Open tournament when you burst onto the scene and created such a stir?
CE: Until after the tournament, I didn’t know what a commotion I was causing. In those days, we had no bodyguards, no cellular phones, nothing. You just had your mother and two wood racquets. I remember, you know, Mary Eisel, being down three match points. All of a sudden the tennis ball looked like a football and I couldn’t miss a ball. But then, after my match, I would go home and empty the dishwasher!
Q: And toward the end of your career, where there were some spotty results, which you really weren’t used to, ups and downs, how much of a factor was that for you, or how did it affect your own sense of maintaining consistency from tournament to tournament?
CE: Oh, very much, because my game was based on consistency and I took a lot of pride in the fact that every match I played, I treated like the finals of Wimbledon.
Q: When you look back, what would you pin-point as the greatest match you played. Or at least your favorite match of those you played?
CE: I think the ’85 French Open, when I beat Martina. When you are young, you don’t appreciate the wins as much and I had gone through a lot as far as the ups and downs of my game. At that time, Martina was number one and I had had a real dry spell with her. It was such a suspenseful match…
Q: Someone on the site’s ‘Match Memories’ suggested you were arrogant, but I think just in a humorous way. ‘How dare you disregard all the deficits you faced and come back so many times to win with such calm! Who did you think you were?!’ I think there’s something to that idea.. Do you think you have to be arrogant to be a great player?
CE: Yes. I was thinking if there was a softer word, but I think more-so than pride. It’s a stronger sense of pride, so arrogant is a good word. It has got a negative connotation. I wish there was a more positive word. I never went out and thought, ‘Uh, I’m better than her.’ I went out there and thought, ‘If I play my game, I could win.’ You have to have that inner-confidence and belief in yourself, and maybe if that’s arrogance, then that’s what you need. But boy, it was there. You know you’re better than the other players when there are so many times that you’re down 5-3 in the third set and you don’t get worried. You still know you’re going to win.
Q: That’s definitely part of being the Ice Princess! There were so many tags, labels, placed on you. In the early days it was the Ice Maiden and then in the second half of your career, it was Chris America. Was it hard to live up to being a Chris America? Or was it just second nature?
CE: Chris America, to me, without reading too much into it, is simply the girl next door, blonde hair, ponytail, paints her nails, who came along at a time when tennis needed a breath of fresh air. It didn’t put on any pressure to make me feel that I had to be spokesperson for all the younger generation.
Q: With that said, in what ways would you say you were a role model?
CE: One thing I was a good role model for was that I worked hard, I practiced hard. I set goals and here was somebody who didn’t have a tremendous amount of showy physical athletic talent, but I still made it work for me and I still won. So, in that respect, I think I was a very good role model.
Q: And having been that role model, what do you miss, looking back, about being out there playing on the circuit? If any?
CE: It’s funny, one great thing about tennis was you sort of had your in-house therapy sessions out on the court, because you play a match, you win or lose, you come off and feel you got all the cobwebs out and feel like a million bucks. That’s probably one thing I miss, that feeling when you walk off the court.
Q: You were known within the tennis world for being one of the best dirty joke tellers around. Do you regret that your humorous side did not come out more on court, in the public eye?
CE: That’s a good question. I’m trying to think if I regret anything about the way I was, the way I was perceived. I do and I don’t. I do in a sense that I know there is another side to me that my friends and family saw and couldn’t believe that other people couldn’t see. But on the other hand, I am still basically a private person. I’m not the type that says, “You can have all of me.” So in that respect, it was kind of nice to have something set aside for myself and for the people that really knew me. But it’s a good question. I don’t think I regret it.
Q: So what’s your daily workout nowadays?
CE: Saturday and Sunday I don’t do anything, Three times a week I practice from 3 to 6 with kids from the (Evert Tennis) Academy. It’s fun. I wouldn’t call three adults and say, “Let’s go out and hit.” But I do some hiking, even some mountain climbing when I’m in Aspen. And I am a big fan of hot (Bikram) yoga.
Q: You had some nice Legends results in the mid-90s. Do you think you could have played professionally beyond 1989?
CE: Eventually you have to go on to something else. Why do you stay in the game as long as you do? A lot of people do because they don’t have anything else in their life that’s more special.
Q: They haven’t found anything to replace the winning..
CE: Right. If I hadn’t had Andy, if I had been single and alone and insecure, maybe I would have stayed in the game. But I felt sort of grounded so I felt like I could make the move in a graceful way.
Q: You were graceful on court and off court, which really sets you apart from the pack. But you’re still an accomplished dirty joke teller without anyone suspecting a thing.
CE: Good. I don’t want people to know everything about me.
Q: I know. But will you tell a joke?
CE: To you? In print?
Q: Do you have any that are fit to print?
CE: I’m thinking…
Q: Do you know any clean jokes?
CE: Not that are funny. (laughs) There are no funny clean jokes.
Q: OK, here’s a no joke.. there was some controversy about you talking to Feinstein regarding your being pro-choice…
CE: He said he heard I was pro-choice on the abortion issue. I said, “So?” And he said, “Well, you never said it.” Well, no one had asked me how I felt about a lot of things. The public doesn’t really know who I am anyway.
Q: So what else does the public not know about you?
CE: I don’t like gender roles for boys and girls. I think you want boys to be in touch with their feelings and girls to be athletic. I’m not saying I’d dress my boys up in high heels, but if they want to play with a doll, fine. I’d laugh.
Q: Any grand admissions about your playing career you’d make in hindsight?
CE: Being number one and being a winner were always very important to me. I’m not the most versatile natural athlete in the world, so I had to make up for it mentally and put all my eggs in one basket as far as concentrating and really being determined. But I never felt that I reached my potential. I never felt that I was ‘the perfect tennis player.’ I always knew that I had weaknesses and areas to work on in my game, whether it be my serve and volley or my movement around the court. I always felt that I could be better.
Q: And yet you have the highest winning percentage of all male and female players in history.
CE: I think you have it in your heart, in your will. It was inside me to be a champion.
Q: That brings us to an interesting point. You now are involved with the Evert Tennis Academy. But you’ve said that you’re not of the opinion that all great players should in fact turn pro.
CE: I was on tour for 18 years and I saw a lot of people who didn’t make it, who had nothing to fall back on. Very few are cut out for that life (on tour). What I see is overzealous parents, and I understand how tempting it is that your 14-year-old can earn a million dollars in a year. But if somebody is winning at 14, she is still going to win three years down the road. It’s up to the parents to make decisions for their kids that are good for their kids and not for their bank accounts.
Q: What kind of players would you like to see on tour?
CE: High school educated ones, preferably. I would like to expose my own kids to every opportunity in life, like the arts and literature, not only sports. You can be a complete idiot and be an athlete. I’m not in this business to train champions, solely. I do know motivation, and I do know pressure. And that’s where I can help these kids (at the Academy). But I talk to them about conscience. I see what’s been happening the last ten years to manners and sportsmanship, and maybe this is my way of giving my opinion on the subject without shoving it down anyone’s throat.
Q: One last question. Now that you have kids, what do you do on Halloween? Who do you dress up as?
CE: (Thinks) …Xena the Warrior Princess.