Re: Chris Evert Thread
Found this on my explorations. Don't know if this is an already well-known article:
Chris Evert Passing Shots
October 2, 1988 | BY MIKE LUPICA
HERE CAME THE NEWS FROM Europe that Chris Evert had withdrawn from the Italian Open because of a foot injury, that she was flying back to Florida, taking a couple of weeks off before the French Open. There was talk again that this might be her last year as a professional tennis player, her last summer at the big ones.
The stories kept coming back to the fact that Chris Evert was 33 years old, that it was time to say goodbye. And it occurred to me that we said hello such a long time ago that it seems she co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet. It seems as if she has been around forever, engaged to Jimmy Connors or dating Burt Reynolds or Jack Ford the president's son, or some rock person named Adam Faith, whoever he is. She married John Lloyd, divorced him, won titles, played what seemed like four thousand matches against Martina, watched other wonder girls like Tracy and Andrea come and go, won more titles, and got married again, this time to skier Andy Mill.
I have known her, liked her, half my life. I was at Wimbledon in 1974 when she and Connors both won the singles and were the Lovebird Double at the Wimbledon Ball. I was seated at a table in the Players Tea Room when John Lloyd asked her out for their first date. I once wrote a column insulting women's tennis, and then Chris and
Martina played this War and Peace semifinal at the U.S. Open. Before Chris took her first question that day, she looked out at me and snapped, "That good enough for you?"
One time I even got to play four games with her. She was quite steady from the baseline.
I have seen her laugh a lot, in restaurants and outside locker rooms and in workout gyms and in a few saloons along the way; she is sneaky funny. I saw her cry one time after a hard loss to Virginia Wade at Wimbledon. She has had her bitchy moments after other losses. But mostly, I think, she has been terrific, serving for nearly two decades in an uncrowned capacity that tennis commentator Bud Collins calls "Chris America."
The figure skaters show up, have their Olympic moment, then disappear into the ice shows with Mickey and Minnie. Women's golf is strictly cable, watched by slightly more people than Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Mary Lou Retton got some 10's, did her Wheaties box, and off she went. But Chris never stopped being Chris, for the full run of the play.
Now Chris Evert is 33, and a sore foot had sent her to the bench. It didn't happen when she was the most famous high school student in America.
Young woman, old tennis player, back in Florida with her feet up. The injury would not heal before the French Open, where she would lose to a 16-year-old girl named Arantxa Sanchez in the third round. Even before it happened, she knew that this summer could be a series of curtain calls, knew she was running out of great days. I wanted to know if being Chris America had been enough for her.
"WAS IT EVERYTHING YOU thought it was going to be?" I asked her just before she left for the French Open.
"Yeah, but I was a little disappointed when I finally..." Chris Evert paused, like the first serve was a fault, second serve coming.
"You dream about holding that plate up over your head and winning a Grand Slam, or Wimbledon, being number one in the world. And it's never what you think it's going to be. Because it lasts about an hour."
There is a laugh without any mirth in it. "You know, the feeling is just so fleeting. You think it's going to stay with you forever. But the sun comes up the next morning, and you still have responsibilities in life. You gotta worry about getting flights home. You gotta worry about paying taxes, just like everybody else. To train and dream about it, that was fulfilling. That was fun. That one hour after you achieve what you want and win a big tournament. But then, you know, you've got the next tournament, and the more you win the more pressure you have."
Her first big win was in 1970. She was 15 years old and beat Margaret Court in a tournament in North Carolina. Court was the number-one player in the world then and had just won the Grand Slam. "For so long," Chris said, "every morning I woke up during a tournament, I'd feel the pressure. And you know that the pressure is putting
food on the table. Well, that might be so. But if you build up a record like I have, well, I could never afford cheap ... not cheap ... bad losses. And I felt that for twenty years."
I asked her if she ever thought about how life would have been different without tennis. And she said, "It's funny, as shy as I was, I always wanted to work with people. When we had to write essays about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I always wrote about being a social worker. Or teaching. That's why it's ironic that I ended up being a tennis player, because you have to be very selfish."
I said, "Do you ever wonder how your life would have been different if you and Connors had wandered off into the sunset?"
"Ooohh, Godddd." A big laugh here. "Oh, yes, sometimes I have. My life could have taken a lot of different turns. We were one month away from getting married."
"What year was that?"
"Well, `74. We both won Wimbledon. Boy, I'll tell you what, it would have been really interesting. Because he wanted children and I would have wanted to wait." A laugh. "We wouldn't have made it. Definitely not. We were so young. We had no idea what we were getting into. To buy a home? What if I had gotten pregnant? I would have
stopped playing, we would have gotten divorced, I would have gone back to playing and had a twelve-year-old traveling with me. Uh, honey, will you ball-boy for me?"
CHRIS EVERT HAS BEEN TO WOMen's tennis what Jack Nicklaus has been to golf. Until the string was broken last year, she had won at least one Grand Slam tournament for 13 consecutive years, something no man or woman had ever done in tennis.
She has always been a champion. She had to grow up in front of everybody, and she handled that. She was the first tennis starlet and could have turned out to be a little brat, and didn't. She was subject, as all athletes are, to injuries and a changing body, and an assembly line of opponents, and age, and even a ticking biological clock. She wasn't made for fast surfaces, and she got over that. She just banged away with her ground strokes, like a blacksmith. Billie Jean King was her first big rival. She took care of King, and then Evonne Goolagong, and then Tracy Austin.
Finally, she and Martina embarked on a historic rivalry, as close as tennis will come to Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain. There were some years in the early 1980s when Chris looked like nothing more than a sparring partner for Martina. But she picked herself up. After what had already been a remarkable career, she made herself get better. She got stronger. She made herself leave the baseline, come to the net more. She put a little more meat on her serve and really learned to volley for the first time in her life. A couple of weeks before we spoke, she beat Martina 6-0, 6-4 in the final of a tournament in Houston.
I asked if, when Martina first came along, Chris thought she would evolve into the player, and woman, she has. Chris said, "Martina needed somebody. Basically, Nancy Lieberman changed her. Martina would never have done it on her own. She doesn't do things on her own. But I always saw danger there if anybody took her under their wing, molded her, and sort of dominated her and created a certain ... body."
Chris stopped. "But I'll tell you what's great about Martina. Sure, she has a great body, but she's learned the mental part to go along with it. And you can't teach somebody that. You can tell somebody until you're blue in the face, but you've got to develop the mental part on your own."
Chris Evert always had the mental part. She had it in 1970 when she beat Margaret Court and changed everything. She told me once that she was driven not to lose by the thought of what her opponent's face would look like afterward. Connors has had heart like this; as different as they are, both willed themselves beyond their physical skills. Both have gone the distance. Billie Jean told me at Wimbledon last year that Connors would never wake up at the age of 45 and say to himself, "What if?" Neither will Chris Evert.
"I wonder whether it's admirable, though," Chris said. "The hunger, the drive, a lot of that will stem from negative things, like insecurity, or wanting to get attention. I have to admit, when I started playing tennis, I was painfully shy. But I liked the attention. I'd go, God, people are accepting me because I'm winning. When you're young, you're very impressionable. So I think a lot of the reasons I was a winner and a champion stemmed from something I lacked in my life."
I asked Chris Evert if she is happy with her looks. She said, "My face just missed being pretty, I think. Just missed."
"Like a shot down the line that's just out?"
"Yeah. If it had just been another 10 percent, I probably could have been considered pretty. I've never thought I've been pretty or a beauty or anything. I think I've had a great body in terms of, you know, I've been slim and toned and I'm muscular. I'm fit. I feel more comfortable with my body because I've had to use it every day for twenty-five years."
She giggled. "It's been used and abused. And it changes. But your face, unless you have plastic surgery, you can't (change). I think I can look nice at times. But I think I'm pretty plain."
"You're perceived as being 'attractive.' "
"Well, you know, attractive is, 'On a scale of one to ten, she's a six.' "
CHRIS EVERT SAYS THAT SHE wants to get off the stage soon. She talks about the strain of 20 years of being Chris, says that she was normal until the age of 10, and that even when she was 25 years old, "nobody asked what I wanted to accomplish over the next five years. They just all looked backward."
She says that she enjoys her rest weeks more than she ever has, tells of how she gets up in the morning and her shoulders are loose and her neck muscles are loose, and the day stretches out in front of her like an open stretch of blue sky, as far as she can see.
"I can jump out of bed on those days," she says, "and say, God, I can do whatever I want. I have the freedom, whether it's lying in bed all day or going to the store. Whatever I want."
I asked her this: If she wins one more big title this year, would she walk away?
"It's not like I'm going to hold up the trophy and say, 'Okay, you guys, you got your wish, I'm quitting, I'm retiring,' " she said. "I'm not going to do that. I'm going to play out the year. If I won a big one this year, I would probably retire at the end of it. And if I don't, I may still retire."
But a part of her does not want to get off. A part of her does not want to give up the skill that made her the most famous girl in America, now one of the most famous women. She has never expressed any burning urge to be a mother, even on the verge of her second marriage. She feels, despite the presence of Navratilova and the young assassin Steffi Graf and Graf's own foil, Gabriela Sabatini, that she is playing as well as she ever has in her life. She feels she could even have beaten Graf in the Australian Open final if the match had not been moved indoors because of rain. For all the talk about pressure and how holding the trophies up wasn't all she thought it would be, she likes the life. She likes being Chris.
"I'll quit when I want to quit," she said. "Not when people want me to quit. I go to press conferences and every day I get, Why are you still playing? And I feel like saying, Are you people stupid? Look at this lifestyle we lead. Look at going to Europe every summer. Look at the money we earn. Look at the publicity we get. You know? Look at" -- a big laugh -- "the exercise that we get. And I'm still three in the world, and I'm still beating Martina occasionally and trying to beat Steffi. It's just amazing to me."
What she's saying is, Tony Bennett doesn't stop singing just because he can't be Sinatra. And maybe she's saying this: Being Chris sure beats being normal.
I SAID TO HER, "WHAT'S THE best day you ever had?" I told her that it didn't have to be at Wimbledon, or the French Open, or the U.S. Open, that it could have been taking that love set off Martina in Houston.
There was a long pause, and she said, "I don't know if it pertains to Wimbledon."
"That last French Open, in `86?"
"I'm trying to think."
Maybe 20 seconds of silence.
Chris said, "I'm trying to think."
"A great day," I said.
She laughed nervously.
"I'm, like, hedging, right? You must be thinking, this girl has had a miserable life."
"I know that's not true."
She didn't say anything. I told her she could have been on the beach in Hawaii when she had this great day, or in the backseat of a Chevy.
She said, "Um. Okay, let me think."
Another 20 seconds of silence. Then she said, "Ah, shoot. I just can't think of one that stands out."
So we small-talked a little more, and suddenly she said, "The thing that bugs me is, I can't think of a day."
I told her to call me later. I told her I had an answering machine. I told her I was going out to dinner, but she could call when she thought of her best day. "Seriously," she said, laughing. "I know there's got to be a day. Go ahead. What's the number?"
I gave it to her. She said, "Isn't that funny. I have to get back to you. Like: Chris, what day were you really happy? And she replied: I'll get back to you on that."
I said, "I'll come home after dinner and the little light will be flashing on the answering machine."
Chris Evert said, "Keep the machine on. I'll call back with the answer."
When I came home from dinner, the green light wasn't flashing. Maybe there were so many days, she couldn't come up with one. Or maybe Chris Evert, at 33, was off to Europe because she was still searching.
But the green light wasn't flashing.