American tennis player
In the 1970s and 1980s, Chris Evert was one of the most dominant and popular women's tennis players in the United States and the world, influencing many young players to try the game. Over the course of her professional tennis career, she won 157 titles and 1300 matches, including eighteen singles titles at Grand Slam events. She had a winning percentage of more than 90 percent. Evert was the first woman tennis player to win $1 million playing professional tennis, and went on to earn over $9 million before she retired in 1989. As Janet Woolum wrote in Outstanding Women Athletes, "She symbolized the best of women's athletics in America: drive, determination, skill, professionalism, and grace."
Evert was born on December 21, 1954, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the second child of Jimmy and Colette Evert. Jimmy Evert had been a decent tennis player in his day, winning as a junior and in some single men's tournaments. He was employed as a teaching tennis professional and tennis park manager in Florida. Evert began playing tennis at the age of six at Holiday Park Tennis Center where her father was the teaching pro. Her two brothers and two sisters also played, though only her younger sister Jeanne became a ranked professional player.
Evert was a good tennis player from an early age, and her father, who served as a coach for much of her career (late in her career she turned to Dennis Ralston), had her practicing every day from the time she was a young child. She primarily played on clay courts, a surface on which she would dominate as an adult.
By the time Evert was ten years old, she was winning local junior tournaments. Evert's style of play already had many of the trademarks of her adult game. She played from the baseline, focusing on ground-strokes that were carefully placed and strongly hit. Because she was such a small child (and only 5'5" and 115 lbs as an adult) and did not have the strength to use
a one-handed backhand, she developed her own two-handed backhand. Because of her success with the stroke, her father/coach did not change it. It became trademark of her game. She later became a better volleyer than she was often given credit for, but she had to learn to like coming to the net.
Because Evert was not a very athletic person, she practiced hard, working especially to enhance her mental focus and great concentration so she could outwit her competition. This focus also gave her the ability to outlast her opponents. Her father taught her not to show a lot of emotion on the court because it would intimidate her opponent. Her coolness on the court became a another trademark of her adult game. While it lead to nicknames like "The Ice Maiden," her real personality was very different. Evert's smart game was considered boring but influential in how others played tennis.
Teenage Victory over Court
By the time Evert was a teenager, she competed in a number of junior tournaments in singles as well as doubles and did well. At the age of fifteen, Evert defeated arguably the best female tennis player at the time, the number one ranked Margaret Smith Court (who had just completed the Grand Slam), during a ladies' clay court tournament in North Carolina, the Carolinas, in the semifinals. Evert lost to Nancy Richey in the finals.
When Evert was sixteen, she began playing on the women's tennis circuit as an amateur. Though tennis was her focus, she continued to attend high school at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from which she later graduated. She had no social life outside of school and tennis. Before she played in the U.S. Open in 1971, she won forty-six straight singles titles. Her first victory came in the Virginia Slims Master's Tournament in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1972. Evert would later win the tournament as a professional in 1973, 1975, and 1977.
Played in Grand Slams as Amateur
In 1971, when Evert was only sixteen, she played in her first Grand Slam, appearing the U.S. Open. Evert defeated four ranked players to make it to the semifinals, where she lost to Billie Jean King . The following year, Evert played in her first Wimbledon. She again lost in the semifinals, losing to Evonne Goolagong .
Evert's talent led her to international play for the United States. In 1971, she was selected to play Wightman Cup tennis. When she began, she was one of the youngest on the team. Evert ended up playing on the 1971-73, 1975, and 1977 through 1985 teams, winning the twenty-six singles matches she played. The U.S. team won the Cup eleven times during her tenure. Evert also played Federation Cup tennis from 1977 to 1980, 1982, and 1989.
On her eighteenth birthday, Evert turned professional, beginning her career on the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) circuit. She won their championship from 1975-78, and in 1980 and 1982. Though she was young, tennis was the defining aspect of her life. She told Sally Jenkins of Sports Illustrated in 1992, "I was very insecure when I was young. I was shy and introverted. When I went out on the tennis court, I could express myself. It was a way of getting reactions from people, like my father. I really admired my dad and put him on a pedestal, and I wanted his attention. Whether it's ego or insecurity or whatever, when you start winning and getting attention, you like it, and that feeling snowballs. You start to feel good about yourself. You feel complete and proud of yourself." As Evert told Christopher Whipple of Life in 1986, "When I was younger I was a little robot: Wind her up and she plays tennis."
Evert dominated on the court from earliest days as a professional. From August 1973 through May 1979, she did not lose one match on clay courts. This was 125 straight matches on the surface best suited to her game. During this span, she won the French Open, which was played on clay, in 1974, 1975, and 1979. It was in 1974 that she began to blossom as a professional. In addition to winning the French Open, her first Grand Slam win, she won Wimbledon, and the Italian and Canadian championships.
Evert played many of these early matches on television, the beginnings of when some women's sports began to air. One aspect of the 1974 win at Wimbledon was made for television. At the time, she was engaged to men's tennis star Jimmy Connors , who won the men's singles title. It was dubbed the "summer of love." Evert's first career year was also highlighted by the fact that she was ranked number one on the USLTA, the youngest woman to be number one in decades.
|1954||Born December 21 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida|
|1971||Makes the semifinals of the U.S. Open, losing to Billie Jean King|
|1972||Makes the semifinals of Wimbledon—losing to Evonne Goolagong; wins the Virginia Slims championship as an amateur|
|1973||Turns professional as a tennis player|
|1973-79||From August 1973 to May 1979, does not lose a clay court match|
|1976-77||Plays World Team Tennis for Phoenix|
|1979||Marries tennis player John Lloyd on April 17|
|1983||Elected president for the first of nine terms of the Women's International Tennis Association|
|1986||Suffers knee injury|
|1987||Divorces John Lloyd in April|
|1988||Plays on the U.S. Olympic Tennis Team; marries Andy Mill|
|1989||Retires as a professional tennis player|
|1991||Son Alexander James born on October 12|
Related Biography: Coach Dennis Ralston
One of the few coaches that Chris Evert worked with in addition to her father was Dennis Ralston. Ralston had impressive tennis credentials of his own. As a player, he played college tennis for the University of Southern California, and won several Grand Slams in men's doubles. He won Wimbledon with Rafe Osuna in 1960, and three U.S. Opens with Chuck McKinley in 1961, 1963 and 1964. As a singles player, Ralston was ranked in the top ten in the United States from 1960-67, and went to the finals of Wimbledon in 1966. He played Davis Cup tennis as both a player (winning in 1963) and a coach (winning in 1968-72). He later was an influential varsity tennis coach at Southern Methodist University. Ralston was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.
After her 1974 wins at the French Open and Wimbledon, Evert won at least one Grand Slam women's singles title until 1986. In the mid-1970s, she won at least two, as well as a number of women's doubles titles, and was ranked number one in the world from 1975-77. In 1976, Evert was named Sports Illustrated 's sports-woman of the year. In 1977, she was named the Associated Press's Female Athlete of the Year. In this time, Evert also played World Team Tennis for Phoenix, from 1976-77. She later won a World Team Tennis championship with Los Angeles.
Rivalry with Navratilova
By the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, Evert had a foe whose talent matched hers on the court. Martina Navratilova was a Czechoslovakian who had emigrated to the United States in the early 1970s. Unlike Evert, Navratilova played a serve-and-volley game and had more potent athletic skills. Their rivalry began in 1973, but Evert dominated many of their matches through the late 1970s. The pair often faced each other at Grand Slam and other big tournaments. Navratilova's first significant victory came when she defeated Evert at the Wimbledon finals in 1978. Navratilova went to defeat her in four additional Wimbledon finals. By the mid to late 1980s, Navratilova began to dominate Evert.
Over the course of their rivalry, Navratilova won forty of seventy-six singles matches, but lost twenty of the first twenty-four. Off the court, the pair were actually
friends. They even won the French Open and Wimbledon doubles title in 1975. Evert said that near the end of the career, it was her rivalry with Navratilova kept her playing for five or six more years. As Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1986, "Chris, the more consistent, casts the longer shadow, while Martina, the more sensational, shines the brighter light. Together, they form a complete whole. There never has been a rivalry like it in women's sports."
Married John Lloyd
Evert's personal life also changed in this time period. She was married to John Lloyd, a British tennis player, in 1979, and was known as Chris Evert-Lloyd until their divorce in 1987. There were problems in marriage in part because she wanted to continue her career in earnest and he did not. Winning was more important to her than Lloyd, and she felt she had more game in her.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1971||Lebair Sportsmanship Trophy|
|1972||Won the Virginia Slims championship as an amateur|
|1973||Won the Virginia Slims championship|
|1974||Won the French Open and Wimbledon; won French Open doubles with Olga Morozova; named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year|
|1975||Won the French Open; won the U.S. Open; won the Virginia Slims championship ranked number one player in the world; won both French Open and Wimbledon doubles tournament with Martina Navratilova; Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year|
|1976||Won Wimbledon; won the U.S. Open; named Sports Illustrated 's sportswoman of the year; ranked number one player in the world|
|1977||Won the U.S. Open; won the Virginia Slims championship; ranked number one player in the world; Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year|
|1978||Won the U.S. Open; ILTA (International Lawn Tennis Association) World Champion; won World Team Tennis Championship with Los Angeles|
|1979||Won the French Open; Women's International Tennis Association (WITA) Karan Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award|
|1980||Won the French Open; won the U.S. Open; ranked number one player in the world; Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year; ILTA World Champion|
|1981||Won Wimbledon; ranked number one player in the world; ILTA World Champion; named Sportswoman of the Year, Women's Sports Foundation; inductee, International Women's Sports Hall of Fame; Women's International Tennis Association Player Service Award winner|
|1982||Won the Australian Open; won the U.S. Open; USLTA Service Bowl winner|
|1983||Won the French Open|
|1984||Won the Australian Open|
|1985||Won the French Open|
|1986||Won the French Open; WITA Player Service Award|
|1987||WITA Player Service Award|
|1989||Won five singles matches in Federation Cup competition, as U.S. won the Cup|
|1990||Won the Flo Hyman Award from the Women's Sports Foundation|
|1995||Elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame|
|1997||Awarded ITF Phillippe Chartier Award for lifetime contribution to the game|
In the early part of her marriage, Evert's victories proved this to be true. In 1980, she was again the number one ranked player in the world, winning both the French and U.S. Opens. In 1981, she was again the number one player in the world, and won Wimbledon. But there was a fall-off in the early part of the 1980s after this. She lost in the third round of Wimbledon in 1983, the first time she had lost before the semifinals in her thirty-four Grand Slam appearances as a professional. Though she had a stomach virus, her game was not as potent this time period as the players she faced were more athletic. At that time, Evert changed her training to work on the weak parts of her game (second services, attacking short-balls) and included weight work and aerobics. Her game soon improved. Even during this transition, however, Evert did win at least one Grand Slam, including three French Opens in 1983, 1985, and 1986.
By 1988, Evert was nearing the end of her playing career. She married Andy Mill, an American downhill skier that year, and also played for the U.S. Olympic tennis team, though she did not medal. Evert did not play well during her last two years on the women's tennis tour. She even skipped the French Open in 1989 because she was not playing up to her standards.
Retired as Tennis Player
Evert's last official tournament was the 1989 U.S. Open. She lost in the quarterfinals to Zina Garrison. Evert found it to be mentally tiring to play through early rounds, though physically, she was fitter than ever. By this point, she had wanted to retire for the two previous years, but could not. She told Robin Finn of the New York Times, "Until this year I always had the feeling that I was going for the grand slam tournaments and that I had a chance to be No. 1. But this year I felt, 'Well, it's tough,' and I didn't want to make that emotional commitment, and even if I did, I knew there'd be no guarantee." After the U.S. Open, she played for her country in Federation Cup competition. The U.S. won the Cup, and Evert won all the singles matches she played. After this, the only tennis she played in were some exhibition matches with Navratilova.
When Evert retired in 1989, she never was ranked lower than four as a singles player. (She was number four when she retired.) She had won more than $9 million in money, and was the first player ever to win 157 tournaments and 1000 matches—the best at the time. As George Vecsey wrote in the New York Times, "If there was one thing Christine Marie Evert never was, it was average. She stood apart, cool and methodical as a teenager, poised and commanding as a young woman, and then, best of all, she re-created herself through exercise and more daring strokes in her final years, just to stay close to [Steffi] Graf and Navratilova. If she hadn't, it would have ended years ago."
Address: c/o Evert Tennis Academy, 10334 Diego Dr. South, Boca Raton, FL 33428.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY EVERT:
(With Neil Amdur) Chrissie, My Own Story, Simon & Schuster, 1982.
(With John Lloyd and Carol Thatcher) Lloyd on Lloyd, Beaufort Books, 1986.
Where Is She Now?
After retiring, Evert remained connected to tennis by serving as a commentator for NBC sports for Wimbledon and French Open and the BBC and other networks for major tennis events. She also served on the boards of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the Women's Sports Foundation. In 1997, she, her father, and brother John founded the Evert Tennis Academy in which Evert was actively involved. She was also named publisher of Tennis Magazine in 2000. Though she occasionally played on the Virginia Slims Legends Tour, she avoided the senior tournament circuit. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1995.
Evert focused much of her time raising her three sons with Andy Mill, Alexander, Nicholas, and Colton, and doing charity work. In 1989, she founded Chris Evert Charities, Inc., and served on the boards of numerous charitable foundations. In addition, Evert was in demand for commercials endorsements and did them for such companies as Nike, Wavex, and Rolex.
(Curry Kirkpatrick) "Tennis was my showcase."Sports Illustrated (August 28, 1989): 72.
Christensen, Karen, et al., eds. International Encyclopedia of Women and Sports. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001.
Collins, Bud, and Zander Hollander, eds. Bud Collins' Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis. Detroit: Gale, 1992.
Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.
Parry, Melanie, ed. Chambers Biographical Dictionary. Chambers, 1997.
Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Women and Sports. ABC-CLIO, 1996.
Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They Are and How They Influenced Sports in America. Oryx Press, 1992.
Alfano, Peter. "Evert's Retirement Plan Includes a Cutback in her Schedule."New York Times (January 28, 1989): section 1, p. 47.
Berkow, Ira. "The Lady Was Deadly."New York Times (August 31, 1989): D19.
Callahan, Tom. "Fire over ice, in three sets."Time (July 15, 1985): 66.
Cunningham, Kim. "Where the boy is?."People (April 8, 1996): 132.
Deford, Frank. "The Day Chrissie reclaimed Paris." Sports Illustrated (June 17, 1985): 28.
Deford, Frank. "A pair beyond compare."Sports Illustrated (May 26, 1986): 70.
"Evert to Serve as Tennis Publisher."Mediaweek (December 11, 2000): 56.
Finn, Robin. "Back to Where It All Began."New York Times (August 28, 1989): C7.
Finn, Robin. "Evert Bows out as Garrison Prevails, 7-6, 6-2."New York Times (September 6, 1989): D21.
Finn, Robin. "Legendary Rivals and Close Friends." New York Times (May 6, 1998): C1.
Grant, Meg. "It's game, set, love match for Chris Evert and skier Andy Mill."People (August 15, 1988): 96.
Jenkins, Sally. "I've lived a charmed life."Sports Illustrated (May 25, 1992): 60.
Johnson, Bonnie, and Meg Grant. "Special delivery." Sports Illustrated (November 25, 1991): 114.
Kirkpatrick, Curry. "A stunning string is broken."Sports Illustrated (July 4, 1983): 54.
Navratilova, Martina. "A great friend and foe."Sports Illustrated (August 28, 1989): 88.
PR Newswire, July 11, 1997. "Tennis great never wants to feel the pressure again." Minneapolis Star Tribune (October 11, 1996): 2C.
Time (April 13, 1987): 74.
Vecsey, George. "Game, Set, Match, Career."New York Times (September 6, 1989): D21.
Whipple, Christopher. "Chrissie."Life (June 1986): 64.
"Chris Evert." BBC Sport/Tennis/Wimbledon/BBC coverage. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/tennis/wimbledon/bbc_coverage/20 (January 1, 2003).
"Chris Evert Tennis Academy." http://www.evertacademy.com/ (January 1, 2003).
"Dennis Ralston." International Tennis Hall of Fame. http://www.tennisfame.org/enshrinees/dennis_ralston.html (January 5, 2003).
"Evert Tennis Academy-The Vision." http://www.evertacademy.com/vision/htm (January 1, 2003).
Sketch by A. Petruso