a C/P from Palm Beach Post - Nov.2001
Chris Evert on motherhood, marriage and the ups and downs of middle age.
Alex and Nick won't budge. And that's the first clue that Chris Evert isn't just paying lip service to motherhood when she says her boys come first.
Alex, 10, and Nick, 7, hover near her at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton. They twirl rackets and pace. They're urged to go out on the courts and hit a few balls together, or to go play with one of the coaches. But, no, they'd rather wait for mom.
And, well, if your mom holds 157 pro tennis singles titles, including seven French Opens and three Wimbledons, who else would you want to practice with, anyway?
''They're my life, they're the most important thing,'' says Evert of Alex, Nick and 5-year-old Colton. ''I'm busy, but I'm 100 percent a mom first.''
Saturday, the busy mom welcomes a host of celebrities and professional tennis players to the 12th Annual Chris Evert/Raymond James Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic in Delray Beach, an event that raises as much as $1 million each year for children's charities.
On the day before Thanksgiving, Evert, 46, settles into a sofa at the tennis academy to talk about her life and her three big loves: family, tennis and charity. It's been 12 years since she played her last professional match, but the All-all-American blond athlete who blistered the courts of major tournaments still looks the part. She's tanned and fit and seems ready to smash a few in a black tank top and white tennis skirt.
But instead of a serious match, she'll stand across the net from Alex and Nick later this afternoon, a cart full of tennis balls at her side as she lobs a few over to her sons. They gamely work on forehands and backhands with encouragements from mom: ''I love it! I love it! Awesome!''
This is how Evert spends most of her days now. No more world travel on tour, living out of a suitcase. Instead, she makes breakfasts and lunches, takes her boys to school, picks them up in the afternoons and heads to the academy to hit balls with them, or takes them to Ramp 48, a West Palm Beach skateboard and in-line skating park, where, for the most part, she blends in with the other parents.
Now that Colton, her youngest, is in kindergarten, Evert also gets more ''me'' time. ''The last 10 years I've always had a child home with me in the morning,'' she says. ''This is my first year I have all of them at school until 3 o'clock, so I'm rewarding myself.''
After dropping them off, she usually heads over to the academy, a facility she was part owner of until three years ago, when she bought out her partners. For a few hours, she plays tennis with academy students, or coaches and mentors them, talking with them about the pressures of world-class competitive tennis.
''We have about 35 boarders from all over the world, and after school, we have about 50 local kids who come,'' Evert says of the academy. ''It takes a few years to get the right program, the right coaches, and now, I think, this has really been a breakthrough year for us ... I'd say we have about 12 kids from the academy who go off to the national championships each summer. ''But we welcome anybody who just wants to work and have fun.''
Evert does both herself. Besides playing tennis three mornings a week, she does weight training twice a week with one of the academy's trainers, and she tries to do yoga twice a week, too.
''I kinda have a great life,'' she says with a broad smile. ''I'm having a good time.''
The timing of this stage in her life - when she can focus more on herself - couldn't be better, Evert says. Now that she's in her 40s, she finds keeping fit a challenge, and a necessity. Earlier this year, she began taking medication for high blood pressure, a hereditary condition.
''I'm very aware of the changes I'm going to have in the next five years,'' she says. ''That's something that isn't addressed really, because it's sort of taboo to talk about it, like menopause, but it's definitely a reality I'll have to deal with. And this year, with the high blood pressure, I've been feeling it mentally. I've been having some anxieties about the health changes that might trigger emotional or mental changes. That's why exercise is so important. If I don't exercise, I'm sluggish in my mind and in my body.''
This seems a fitting truth for a woman who has worked hard physically since she was a little girl. Christine Marie Evert was born in Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 21, 1954, one of five kids who all were trained to excel in tennis by their teaching pro father, Jimmy Evert. Of the five, Chris was the star. She made her first waves in an insignificant tournament at age 15, defeating No. 1 the world's top-ranked player, Margaret Court, 7-6, 7-6. She would go on to play for 20 years, racking up such accolades as the highest winning average in pro history and 21 major titles winning 18 Grand Slam titles and being ranked No. 1 for eight years. She was married for eight years to English player John Lloyd, and has been married to former Olympic skier Andy Mill for the last 13 years.
''I told Alex this year that I was married before and he goes, 'I hate him!' And I said, 'Actually, you'd like him a lot,' Evert says of her ex.
These days, with her hectic and vagabond tennis career fading into the past, it's now her ''extreme'' sports-loving boys and their equally active dad who keep her on her toes.
''Andy's the greatest dad in the whole world,'' Evert says of Mill. ''He bought the boys motorcycles, and he taught them how to snowboard, and how to ski and how to Rollerblade. He was the kind that, the first day, he got right in there with the diapers. He's just a fearless and adventurous person, and that's what I love about him, because I tend to be more cautious.''
Mill, now the host of the Sportsman's Journal fishing show on the Outdoor Life Network, travels as much as 10 days a month to shoot episodes. Last month, he took Nick with him to the Bahamas for bonefishing. When Mill travels, the nurse who helped deliver all three of Evert's children stays with her and the boys in the evenings to help with meals, homework and to provide a sense of security. Otherwise, Evert cares for her children on her own, and never had live-in help. ''I don't like being alone at night for 10 days in a row,'' says Evert. (The nurse is) my one luxury that I have. I call it a luxury because not a lot of people can have that.''
Evert says she's thought even more about safety and security since Sept. 11 - but not for herself.
''My first concern was my children, and their lifetime,'' she says. ''It wasn't my lifetime. I've lived a charmed life, so from here on in it's icing on the cake for me. But do they have to deal with this forever? Do they have to deal with the fear of flying on an airplane ... will they have to fear these networks of people for the rest of their lives? It brings you to your knees and makes you wonder.''
Evert says she and Mill have tried to help their children understand the tragedy using the simplest terms.
''My first instinct was to protect them from this, but at the same time, you know they're going to talk about this at school, so (we) just tell them simply, 'We're at war with some bad people,' Evert says. ''They don't understand the impact of it - they're in their own little world right now, thank goodness. I don't think they need to know the repercussions right now.''
Evert also worried the celebrities and tennis stars slated to play in her tournament this weekend would change their minds about coming. But then she had a reassuring phone call with former President George Bush three weeks ago.
''I said, 'Are you still coming?' And he said, 'Absolutely, I wouldn't miss it,' says Evert. ''He said, 'You know, what we have to do is continue living, we can't just stop living because of these people.'
Advice that the retired tennis star seems to be taking to heart herself. She is happy being a full-time mom and picky about the work she takes. She travels only twice a year, to the French Open and Wimbledon, to commentate for NBC. She likes being involved with the students at the academy that bears her name, but leaves the day-to-day management to her brother John. ''I don't want another career,'' she says.
And as for tennis, well, it's not so easy to walk away from the one thing you ate, breathed and slept for 20 years. But these days, it's a whole different ball game.
''I love it,'' Evert says. ''I like it because it's my choice now. I still like to feel like I'm able to run around and cover a court. Because one day, I won't be able to do it. And I like hitting a nice ball - right in the middle of the strings - it's still a great feeling.''
Chris Evert was a tennis champion for 20 years, but now she has settled into a new life of caring for her three sons and lending her expertise to the Boca Raton tennis academy that bears her name. "I'm pretty normal," says the retired star. We asked Evert to share a few thoughts with us on parenting, good food and why she has no idea where most of her trophies went.
On parenting: "I just go all by instinct. I'm probably wrong half the time, but if they're fighting, separate them. And I'm a firm believer in talking to them about things. I think communication is really important. If they do something wrong, instead of screaming or spanking, I sit them down and talk to them about being good people, about being nice. You learn new things every day about parenting."
On being different from her own parents: "I really appreciate my parents. Money was tight, my dad was working 12-hour days, my mom had no help. I know now why I was brought up in a very strict, black-and-white environment. It had to be that way ... I probably should be stricter than I am. It worked for (my parents), but I've gone the other way a little bit."
On raising tennis stars: "The boys won't be tennis players. They do so many sports. I think they'll just be all-around good athletes and use their minds for their careers. I could have gone the route my dad did, but I didn't want to 'create' tennis champions."
On fame: "I don't have the kind of fame I had when I was on the tour. Now I live very normally. It's great. I never really liked the other part of it. I didn't revel in it."
Her favorite food: "I love chicken, any kind of chicken. But you know what, I like McDonald's french fries, too. I have high blood pressure and I'm addicted to salt! I'm fine with chocolate stuff and fat stuff, but salty stuff I like."
Her favorite movie: Remember the Titans. "I love the story, about how sports brought them together. In the last year, when I've had a moment, I like to watch that movie, but it's a tear-jerker, too."
Her favorite book: "I don't have time to read books right now. I'm really a magazine freak. I'll buy every magazine, from Time to Good Housekeeping. But I am reading the Marianne Williamson book, A Return to love. After September 11, I kind of got in a spiritual mood, just to try to figure out the meaning of it all. The 40s, for me, is not only delving into my kids' lives, but it's also a halfway point for me, so it's figuring out what it's all about, where it's all going to lead. It's about fear and love. I have fears. I've always had a fear of flying, and a fear of going into a room of 500 people and talking. (The book is) all about how you can turn it around and not have fear in your life."
Her favorite indulgence: "Every two years I go to Canyon Ranch in Tucson, and I take my two sisters and my mother, and it's for five days, and I haven't been in two years, so I'm waiting for the OK from Alex," she says, winking at her oldest son. "Any indulgence for me would be a spa treatment."
Her favorite cosmetic product: Sunscreen. "Religiously, every day, I'm putting on sunscreen with a lot of SPF protection."
What possession can you not live without? "I'm a gypsy at heart. I was so good traveling all over the world for 20 years and feeling that that hotel room was my home for the week. I have nothing material, possession-wise, that I have to have. You can take stuff away from me. I collect my kids' papers and report cards, but I don't collect anything from me. I don't even have one U.S. Open trophy. I don't know where they are. I know, it's sad. My mother might have them; I have no idea. I have my Wimbledon and my French, but I don't have all my French. I won seven times and I think I have three trophies."
What would people be surprised to know about you? "I cuss. I have a locker-room mouth I developed on the tour, and still, a word will slip out with my kids, and they'll start saying it and I'll say, 'Who taught you that?' And they'll say, 'You, mom!' And I'm a good dirty joke teller."
Palm Beach Post - November 30, 2001 - Heather Graulich