Christine Marie Evert turns 55 on December 21, 2009. Upon turning 18 years old in 1972, she officially turned professional, saying “I’ll miss the senior prom, but it will be worth it. I think I am ready to play tennis for money….I’m eager not only to become a pro, but to get out of school.” Here’s her profile as seen in THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($34.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com).
United States (1954—)
Hall of Fame—1995
In 1970, at a small, insignificant tournament in North Carolina, 15-year-old Christine Marie Evert gave notice to the world that a dynamo was on the way up. Chrissie defeated Margaret Court, 7-6, 7-6, a woman who had recently completed her singles Grand Slam and was No. 1 in the world.
A year later in the U.S. Open at Forest Hills, Evert reconfirmed by marching resolutely to the semifinals, at 16 years, eight months, 20 days, the youngest at that time to reach that stage. Before losing to Billie Jean King, 6-3, 6-2, the eventual champion, schoolgirl Evert bowled over a succession of seasoned pros, mostly in come-from-behind thrillers that raised tears on the defeated older players and cheers in the Forest Hills stadium that Chrissie filled day after day. They went down in a row: Edna Buding of Germany, Mary Ann Eisel of the United States, No. 5 seed Françoise Durr of France and Lesley Hunt of Australia. Against Eisel, the No. 4 American, Evert wowed the first national TV audience to behold her by stonewalling when Eisel served for the match at 6-5, 40-0. Undaunted, the kid made six match points melt with bold shotmaking to win, 4-6, 7-6 (5-1), 6-1.
Although essentially a slow-court baseline specialist, raised on clay in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she was born Dec. 21, 1954, right-handed Evert showed that booming groundstrokes could succeed on the fast Forest Hills, Wimbledon and Australian grass. She was the “Little Ice Maiden,” a pony-tailed kid, deadpan, with metronomic strokes that seldom missed. Her two-handed backhand, a powerful drive, stimulated a generation of newcomers to copy her, even though her father, teaching pro Jimmy Evert, advised against it. “I didn’t teach the two-hander to her,” said her father, who had won the Canadian singles in 1947. “She started that way because she was too small and weak to swing the backhand with one hand. I hoped she’d change—but how can I argue with this success?”
It was such a success that by the time she completed a 20-year career in 1989 she had won $8,896,195 in prize money and 154 pro singles titles on a 1,309-146 won-lost record. That’s an .8996 winning average, highest in pro history.
Evert also was runner-up for 72 singles titles, which meant she made it to 76 percent of the finals of 303 tournaments entered.
After turning pro in 1973, she was the first to reach $1 million in career prize money, in 1976.
Her major singles titles numbered 18—six behind Margaret Court, three behind Steffi Graf, one behind Helen Wills Moody, tied with Navratilova. Chris won at least one major singles for 13 consecutive years, a record. She started in Paris in 1974, beating Olga Morozova of the USSR, 6-1, 6-2, for the title, and ended in 1986 at the French where she was the all-time champ with seven championships on a 72-6 match record. Her other singles majors: Australian, 1982, 84; Wimbledon, 1974, 76, 81; U.S., 1975-76-77-78, 80, 82. Her last final, age 34, was the Australian, 1988, a stiffly resisting 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) defeat by 18-year-old Steffi Graf, launching the German’s Grand Slam. Chris almost tied a longevity record of Helen Wills Moody, 16 years between major final appearances (1922-38). Her span was 15, but she was playing year after year while Moody was sporadic. While still an amateur, she won the first pro tournament she entered, St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1971.
By winning the U.S. title a fourth consecutive time in 1978 she was the first to do so since Helen Jacobs’ run of 1932-35. Between 1973 and 1979 she won 125 consecutive matches on clay, including 24 tournaments. The streak carne to an end in the semifinals of the Italian Open in Rome when she lost, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), to Tracy Austin. She won the U.S. Clay Court title six times between 1972 and 1980, tying Nancy Richey’s record, 1963-68.
Her introduction to Evonne Goolagong was the 1972 Wimbledon semifinal, an exciting three-set struggle won by Goolagong, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, the defending champion. That was the start of one of the two most compelling female rivalries of the Open era, one in which Evert held a 21-12 edge. The other, perhaps the most renowned in the game’s history, was Chris’ friendly feud with Martina Navratilova. From 1973 through 1988 it stretched 80 matches. Evert won the first meeting in Akron, Ohio, 7-6 (5-4), 6-3, and took a big early lead, but Navratilova overtook her, and came out ahead, 43-37, winning nine of 13 of their major final engagements.
During the Open era, the Virginia Slims circuit and its championship became prominent in women’s tennis. Evert won the first of her four Slims championships in 1972 at 17. In choosing to preserve her amateur status until her 18th birthday that year, she disdained more than $50,000 in prize money, including the $25,000 Slims award for beating Kerry Reid, 7-5, 6-4.
Once she entered tennis for a living, she was a thorough exemplary professional in her relations with colleagues, press and public, and perennially a hard but sporting competitor. Fairly soon, she lost her status as the darling little girl. Her style was based on flawless barrages from the backcourt, and her constant winning seemed monotonous to many. Nevertheless, she was a smart player, able to maneuver a foe cleverly, scoring decisively with a well-disguised drop shot. She was also a better volleyer than given credit for, after overcoming an early distaste for the net. “I realize that a lot of fans think my game is boring, and they want to see me lose, or at least for somebody to give me a good fight all the time. But this is the game I played to win,” she said. “Losing hurts me. I was always determined to be the best.”
A lithe 5-foot-6, 125 pounds, she was in the world’s Top 10 for 19 years, including five times No. 1 (1975-76-77, 80-81) and seven times No. 2 (1978-79, 82-83-84-85-86). A paragon of consistency, she entered 57 of the major tourneys, won 18, and was at least a semifinalist 53 times.
As one of five tennis-playing Evert children, she was clearly the star, but her sister, Jeanne, three years younger, was also a pro.
In 1974, Jeanne ranked No. 9 in the U.S. and they were the first sisters to be ranked in the U.S. Top 10 since Florence (No. 3) and Ethel Sutton (No. 2) in 1913. Chris and Jeanne were teammates on the victorious U.S. Wightman Cup team of 1973.
Her final-round surges past Goolagong for a first U.S. Open crown in 1975, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, and to the Wimbledon title of 1976, 6-3, 4-6, 8-6, are well remembered. But her most satisfying victories were probably the last majors, the French final upsets of Navratilova in 1985, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5. and, at age 33, in 1986, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Her farewell to Flushing Meadow was the defeat by Zina Garrison, leaving her with a record 101 match wins in that event. She closed her career by winning all five singles matches as the U.S. won the Federation Cup in 1989. It was her ninth year and eighth Cup-winning team. She was undefeated in Wightman Cup singles (26-0), helping the U.S. win 11 Cups in the 13 years she played, captaining the team 1980-82, 85-86.
Evert was the first player to win more than 1,000 singles matches as well as 150 tournaments, the only one other than Court and King to win more than 100 matches in a season, which she did during a mammoth 1974 when she. won 16 of 24 tournaments on a 103-7 record. Her 55-match winning streak in 1974 (ended at the U.S. Open by Goolagong) was an Open-era record until eclipsed by Navratilova’s 74 in 1984. She also had streaks of 34 wins in a row in 1978, and 31 in 1979. Chris was on the 1988 Olympic team, but didn’t medal, beaten by Italian Rafaella Reggi.
Three seasons of World Team Tennis included 1976-77 with Phoenix and 1978 with champion Los Angeles. Her eight-year marriage to English player John Lloyd ended in divorce. She then married ex-Olympic skier Andy Mill, with whom she has three sons, and was divorced again in 2006.
MAJOR TITLES (21)—Australian singles, 1982, 1984; French singles, 1974, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1986; Wimbledon singles, 1974, 1976, 1981; U.S. singles, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982; French doubles, 1974, 1975; Wimbledon doubles, 1976. OTHER U.S.TITLES (6)—Clay Court singles, 1972-73-74-75, 79-80. FEDERATION CUP—1977-78-79-80-81-82, 86, 40-2 singles, 17-2 doubles. WIGHTMAN CUP: 1971-72-73, 75-76-77-78-79-80-81-82, 84-85, 26-0 singles, 8-4 doubles SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—Australian (30-4), French (72-6), Wimbledon (96-15), U.S. (101-12).