Re: Chris Evert Thread
An article from "Sports Illustrated" by Chris Evert, published exactly twenty years ago today, concerning her imminent retirement.
'Tennis was my showcase'
No, Brits, Chris Evert isn't pregnant, but she's retiring from tennis and is eager to bike, hike, cook and become a mother
Well, this is it. No more "maybes." No more "depending ons." No more "probablys." (Probably has always been my favorite qualifier—it gave me such an out.) Even though I hate dealing with this—I don't even like to think about it—my mind is made up. The 1989 U.S. Open will be my final tournament.
Oh, I'm still going to play on the U.S. team in the Federation Cup in Tokyo in October—I think Martina [Navratilova], Pam [Shriver], Zina [Garrison] and I have a great chance to win, and I'd love to go out on a high note. Martina and I also will play some exhibitions in the fall and winter. And next year, if I'm feeling great, I may do a cameo at my home tournament in Boca Raton. But as for Chris Evert, serious competitor, yes, I guess I really am outta here.
For some time I've thought this would be my last year. In April and May, when I wasn't doing so well in the clay-court tournaments, I thought I'd retire right then. But I really enjoyed preparing for Wimbledon, and after having five weeks off, I've enjoyed practicing and getting back into form for the Open, too. The thing is, I've played week in and week out for so many years, I just don't want to put in a full schedule anymore.
I've never believed athletes should stop in the prime of their careers. I think they should play past their prime to find out what their prime is. That's why even if I had won one of the Grand Slam tournaments in the last few years, I still wouldn't have quit. If I could win a major championship then—or even now (hope, hope)—why couldn't I win more later? Anyway, I always wanted to finish out a tennis year. This is the year.
Physically, I've never felt better. I'm in better shape than I was five years ago. The mental strain is the difference. I used to cruise through the early rounds of tournaments. Now I'm exhausted after three matches, and then comes Zina or Lori McNeil or one of the younger girls, say Monica Seles, and I can see they're not scared or intimidated.
I don't feel the same intensity. But I know a lot of other things in my life would suffer if I did feel that intense. At Wimbledon I felt especially vulnerable. I know I've lost some confidence, and I just don't want to pay the price anymore. The truth is that at 34 I feel I'm about three years past my best tennis. That wasn't too long to stay, was it?
Actually, it took me until this year to realize I was past my prime. Going into each season I always had big-picture goals: to be No. 1 and to win a major tournament. Last year Martina, Gaby Sabatini and I were very close for No. 2, and I even thought I could still beat Steffi [Graf]. Most of all, I enjoyed the competition.
But this year I haven't woken up each morning with any goals. My ultimate goal was to stay with Sabatini. I didn't realistically feel I could win the Slam events. That brought my desire down several notches. O.K., O.K., Steffi's probably responsible for that. If Steffi weren't around, maybe I'd have a whole different outlook. Still, I only wanted to play well. I was No. 4. I had begun to accept my defeats, justify them. I felt a certain calmness about them. That was significant because it meant my attitude had changed. These were fairly good clues that it was truly time to stop.
Losing in Houston in April to Monica showed me how intense I would have to be, how really hard I would have to train, to keep up my usual standard. For four weeks I had practiced on clay, and I hated every minute of it. I was in a foul mood. I wasn't patient. Then, in the finals, I played Monica, this little 15-year-old who put her heart and soul into every point. I tried to take shortcuts to get by. It actually hurt me, true pain, to stay intense for more than a couple of points at a time.
The same feeling carried over to Geneva a month later, when I lost to Barbara Paulus, whom I had beaten easily earlier in the year. She hit a hundred moon balls, and I just didn't want to fight for three sets. I came off the court and told my husband, Andy, "Let's go home." I decided right then to pull out of the French Open.
Back in Florida, Andy sat me down and said, not for the first time, "Look, you don't owe anybody anything. I see what you're going through. You're not happy. You've been a winner all your life. Don't put yourself through this. You don't need tennis anymore." He was right. If anybody has convinced me that it's O.K. to stop playing, it's been Andy.
I have wondered since I was 25: How will I know when to retire? I thought nobody would tell me; I'd just feel it. I do, and I'm glad. It's tough for some other people around me to accept my decision because they aren't prepared. Especially my dad, who has been my coach and my inspiration over all these years. He has always encouraged me to play more than anyone. Sometimes I've felt like asking him, "Dad, what's the deal? Do you want me to play till I'm 50?" This summer even he recognized the signs, and now it seems O.K. with him for me to stop. I will remember many things about my career, the most important being my parents and their support.
Let me say it isn't just the pedestal that Graf has reached that seems so far away. It's Monica and Arantxa Sanchez, who's all of 17, and all these other young girls as well. Each time I watch them I remember how it felt to be young and fresh and keen. The fact is, I'm not going to get any better, and they are. Fairly wise thinking, huh? Real Einstein stuff, right? But you know what? I watched the French Open on TV—a tournament I've won seven times—and I didn't even miss it. It seemed like tough work. I thought, Gosh, I'm glad I'm in Florida and they're in Paris. All of a sudden, a Grand Slam tournament didn't look like fun.
The thought of relaxing and being free is very appealing. Remember, I started in big-time tennis when I was 15 years old. In fact, my very favorite match still is the one in Charlotte, N.C., in 1970, when I was 15 and beat Margaret Court, who had won the Grand Slam. Ever since then, I've been on a mission.
I think that's the difference between Martina and me. She didn't really get engulfed by tennis until much later, when she was 23 or 24. I've got a lot of years on her as far as putting up with the pressure and tension and mind games. Last year I saw the first glimpses of burnout in Martina, and I thought this year she would be about at the stage I am. There was even a lot of press talk about us retiring together. She skipped the French, too, remember. Before Wimbledon, Billie Jean [King] got Martina in such a terrific frame of mind and so psyched up, that it turned the game around for her and she was eager again.
I'm a great believer in niches, and someone whose situation is more parallel to mine is Jimmy Connors. We both came up about the same time and won our first Wimbledons in 1974. We were engaged for 10 months, of course, and saw each other for another three years. Thank god we both realized it would never work out. I honestly believe that Jimmy might be leaving the game now, too, if he had a niche. If Jimmy had gotten that gig as Pat Sajak's replacement on Wheel of Fortune, who knows? But I don't think Jimmy has found his niche outside tennis. Bjorn Borg's been away from the game how many years? And he hasn't found a niche yet.
The difference with me is I think I have found my niche. Tennis has been my world since I was six. Tennis molded my personality, defined who I was. Every day I woke up, my moods were subject to tennis: Did I win or lose? I had a high esteem for myself following victory, the opposite after a loss. It's so difficult to cut yourself away from that, but even while I've struggled on the court these last few years, boy, have I advanced in other areas.
I never had a permanent home to go to as an adult before Andy and I settled in Aspen. I've grown to love my weeks away from the tour. It's no secret I've been in seventh heaven ever since I met him at a New Year's Eve party at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen three years ago. I can't explain how great it is that my happiness is no longer based on winning a tennis match.
I've found my niche as Mrs. Andy Mill, as a full-time wife. We've bought a 6,000-square-foot house in Starwood in the valley outside Aspen. I'm going to have a ball decorating it. We'll keep our main residence at the Polo Club in Boca Raton, which I represent as the touring pro. I can't imagine ever leaving Florida for good, since most of my family is there or other places in the South.
What will I do with myself? What won't I do? I'll go biking and hiking with Andy. I'll even go fly-fishing with him. I'm going to shop for groceries, peel vegetables and cook! I'm going to sit on a couch and read a magazine without feeling I've got to train or practice or eat a meal or be anywhere on time. I'm going to be on the telephone nurturing friendships the way normal people do. I'll be fulfilling my endorsement contracts. I'm starting a pro-celebrity tournament in Boca Raton to help combat drug abuse. And I'll work for NBC at next year's French Open and Wimbledon.
Oh yes, I left something out. Attention, British press: Andy and I are going to try to have a baby. No, I am not pregnant yet. Over the years the tabloids in London have had me "with child" about 10 separate times.
Like every woman, I wonder what my maternal instincts will be. When you're young, you fantasize about how wonderful and cuddly babies are. Only recently have I begun to notice the work that goes into raising children and the strain in my sister Jeanne's eyes. And she's only 32. Jeanne and her husband, Brahm, live 15 minutes from us in Delray Beach, and their kids, Eric, who's 3˝ and Kati, who's seven months, are worth every strain.
I'm a great believer in getting to know kids, because I don't think my parents or their generation did enough communicating with children. Eric and I go bicycling and fishing. I caught a crab in a little net for him, and we played on his swing set. It was such fun. Most of all, though, I talk with him, and it's great. Of course, my contact is only for a few hours, which is quite different from being with a child for 24 hours every single day. I wonder how I'll bear up to that. We shall see. People often ask me what will I do at next year's U.S. Open. Hopefully, I'll be very pregnant by then.
As exotic as the people and places on the circuit have been, what I'll miss the most is the game itself. I've always loved the geometry of the sport, loved finding the angles, the holes, somehow searching out a way to win. Tennis was my showcase, my way of being creative. I was a shy little girl who desperately needed something to excel in. Deep down inside, the game made me a complete person. It made me feel whole.
To this day I remember being 13 and noticing all the beautiful girls at St. Thomas Aquinas High and wondering how I could compete without spending $5 million on plastic surgery. Then one day I said something funny in a mixed group, and the boys laughed. I realized that if you could be bright and witty, you had a chance to be popular, too.
I've always been conservative and have always held my emotions and my personality in check. My on-court stoicism has often dominated my public image off the court as well. Because my father was my role model, I grew up with total seriousness all around me. But I love humor, and it doesn't bother me that the world doesn't know the real me. It's never been a calculated move that I would be two different people. I just am.
My whole life has been so intense that humor and laughter became my escape. Though I've seldom exposed that side of myself to a general audience, the women on tour will tell you that I am among the more cynical and sarcastic voices in the locker room. Pam Shriver is my idol witwise, and when we get together we can brutalize practically anybody with some very rough humor. My brother John is one of the funniest guys in the world. It is very important to have that atmosphere around me as a balance.
Martina claims I tell the dirtiest jokes around—probably as a semi-revolt against my strict Catholic upbringing. And when I've become angry in practice, every four-letter word imaginable has graced these lips. Just the other day I broke my racket with a vengeance. Only about five people were watching me practice, but they must have thought the sky had fallen. It felt sooooo good.
I don't want to sound overly metaphoric, but tennis really is a lot like life: Working hard in a rally, exploring for openings, taking risks, making the points, missing. Until only a few years ago, I enjoyed the mental aspects of the sport much more than the physical aspects. But Martina revolutionized the game, raising it to a level that forced me to join a gym and become a true athlete—or at least a facsimile of one. I should thank Martina not only for ordering me out of my blue funk and inviting me to Aspen over those Christmas holidays when I met Andy—this was following my separation from John Lloyd—but also for introducing me to the, ahem, joys of exercise. Without my daily workouts, I could never make the 20-mile mountain-bike rides my husband "forces" me to accompany him on now—not to mention holding Martina to a 43-37 edge in our rivalry.
Of course, I'll miss playing Martina. My biggest thrills came in beating her, yet when I lost to Martina, I was disappointed but never devastated. If I couldn't win the tournament myself, I wanted her to win it. I could feel the rivalry emanating not only from us but from crowds around the world as well. The excitement and the tension were everywhere.
When have No. 1 and No. 2 been so close for so long in any sport as Martina and I were? We have an incredible bond. I trust her more than any other player, and she's the most compassionate, giving person I know. After my losses she always calls—overseas, if we're in the same hotel, whatever. She searches me out. She calls when I have a big win, too—or if I have to play Steffi the next day.
Believe me, I've been critical of Martina. For a while—when Nancy Lieberman was Martina's trainer and plotting her Kill Chris strategy back in the early '80s—we didn't get along, but we got through that. Then there was my loss to her in the 1988 Wimbledon finals. To this day I think I got a bad call on match point. The linesman didn't call my shot out until Martina glared at him. I know it; I'll always believe it. I was mad at her for a couple of weeks. Then I told myself, Hey, it isn't worth ruining the friendship, and we were back together.
Martina bought 125 acres in Aspen a while ago—she's going to build a castle and move there permanently—and we usually find ourselves in town together about four times a year. We have dinner and go skiing. That is, we start out skiing together. Martina goes 50 miles an hour faster than I do, and we meet later for lunch. She's such a jock, sometimes it's laughable. Martina has always been better at everything than me.
Recently Andy taught me how to fly-fish, and I actually caught four big trout. Martina tried and tried, but she couldn't catch a thing. It killed her. One night she asked Andy how I could possibly catch any fish when she was so much better at it but couldn't catch a thing. It turned out Martina was holding the bait just above the water, thinking "fly" meant the fish literally flew out of the water to get the bait. My loving husband suggested the next time Martina try resting the fly on the water.
Maybe the fact that I didn't miss playing the French Open on my beloved clay—the surface on which I had my greatest achievement, 125 straight victories from 1973 through 1979—is the strongest single indication that I'm ready for a new life. I will miss doing something well, being totally focused and putting all my faculties and emotions on the line. It's a nice feeling when everything is flowing. You feel so comfortable.
The players, the camaraderie, the locker room? No, I won't miss that. I've been with three different generations on the women's tour. When I arrived on the scene, there were Margaret, Billie Jean and Rosie [Casals]. Then came Martina's and Pam's generation. Now it's the younger girls. I don't have a whole lot in common with them. I had the most fun when Billie Jean, Rosie, Virginia [Wade] and Wendy [Turnbull] were playing. They were fun and stimulating and intelligent. They were my mentors. I respected them.
Now, with my personality, it's hard for me to go up and make the first move with these kids. Introduce them to the WITA [Women's International Tennis Association]? Give them coaching? They don't need me. They've got five people around them, all their entourages. In the early days you didn't have that. I was taken under the wing of the older players. Now it's big business, which has taken away the spontaneity and fun. The younger girls are in and out of the locker rooms so fast. They don't want to socialize anyway.
The women used to play at country clubs in front of 1,500 to 2,000 people. The crowds were more intimate. Now we go to arenas that seat 10,000. It's colder, stiffer. It's show biz. In the old days there wasn't the money, the pressure, the exposure. The Family Circle Cup at Hilton Head is about the only tournament left that's exactly the way it used to be. The tour just isn't the same. You have to generate your own fun.
There also are many more European players on the circuit today, and an alienation exists between them and the Americans. The Europeans resent us because they feel the WITA wants to keep all the tournaments in the U.S. I get flak because I've been president of the WITA for seven years, which has made life on the tour even less fun.
I've always wanted more tournaments in Europe, because that's where the money and growth is. But the Europeans don't seem to understand that we can't burn bridges with the promoters in the U.S., when a few years ago Europe was telling us to drop dead. Steffi and her father are rumored to be at the forefront of this movement. It's harder for the Europeans to understand why we would want to be loyal to the U.S. tournaments when the European market is offering such big bucks. But there must be a compromise somewhere. We've got a European office now, and we're adding a couple of European tournaments each year to those that already exist. As with any other sport, expansion can't be an overnight thing.
Finally, I can't avoid some regrets. I wish I had pushed myself more to learn to serve and volley. I wish I hadn't been so committed to Team Tennis in the mid-'70s and had played the French Open instead. I probably cost myself three French championships and maybe the Grand Slam in 1976, when I won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and dominated all year. I feel sure I would have won Paris on clay that summer, and with three titles in the bag, I would have played the Australian Open to try for the Slam, even if it meant spending Christmas away from home.
Speaking of Wimbledon, that's the bugaboo. I won it three times, in '74, '76 and '81. But I should have won it seven times. In 1975 I had Billie Jean down 3-0 in the third set in the semis, but I was going through some heavy stuff with Jimmy that year. When I looked up in the stands and saw him with Susan George, the actress, I freaked out. I just couldn't believe he would do that. I couldn't hit a ball after that and ended up losing the match. Billie Jean crushed Evonne Goolagong Cawley 6-0, 6-1 in the final.
In 1977 I had Virginia Wade beaten in the semis. I was a much better player, but I let the crowd, which was rooting for Virginia because she's English, get to me. She won 6-1 in the third set and then beat Betty Stove in the finals.
In 1978 I had Martina down 4-2, 40-15 in the third set in the finals, but I had met John that year. I was thinking of him on every point, I wasn't focused, and I let another golden opportunity slip away because of a relationship. Looking back, I'd rather be in love any day, but that's twice love cost me Wimbledon. I just wish I had been a little tougher.
In the semis in 1980 I finally beat Martina at Wimbledon. But I celebrated so much that the next day I was in a fog against Evonne and lost 6-1, 7-6.
Next week, at my 19th U.S. Open—a record for women, someone tells me—there'll be no such excuses. It's not likely that I'll win the tournament for the seventh time, but I'm going to try my best. The Open is where I made my first big splash, saving six match points in 1971 to beat Mary Ann Eisel in the second round and reach the semi-finals at 16; where I had the most satisfying victory of my career, over Tracy Austin in the semis in 1980; and where I washed out most ignominiously last year, defaulting my semi-final against Steffi with a stomach virus.
A couple of friends recently told me they didn't even want me to play the Open. They wanted to remember me by that final wave on Centre Court after I lost to Steffi in the semis at Wimbledon. I understand why they feel that way but, hey, I want to play till I run out of gas. At least let me make that decision.
In 1975, when I won my first U.S. Open, 6-2 in the third over Evonne, I'll never forget looking up and seeing my mother bawling in the stands. I mean, she was sobbing! I was like, Mom! How can you show these emotions in public? Control yourself! How embarrassing! I'm afraid that 14 years later there are going to be one or two more scenes like that one.
I wish everybody would do me a favor and not mention the significance of this Open. Don't remind me it's the last one. I hate any tone of finality. I've never had to deal with endings. Even winning the tournament won't necessarily make the ending happy. Giving up tennis will leave a void in my life forever.
Last edited by newmark401; Aug 28th, 2009 at 11:25 PM.