From the New York Times:
How an It Girl Lost Her Groove, Then Found Her Game
By SELENA ROBERTS
Published: August 30, 2004
There was once an It gal of tennis who graced the national magazine covers, drawing so much attention from the paparazzi and fashionistas that she made her peers as jealous as lottery losers.
Why couldn't they be so lucky?
There was once a transcendent star who had her suitors and lost loves inspected by tabloids, a young woman who had life outside of her sport knocking, all with phenoms constantly testing her tennis attention span.
Why did the game feel so tedious?
Before there was the distracted Serena Williams, there was the introspective Chris Evert. Before Williams began discovering how tennis obstructs life, Evert hit a similar crossroads 25 years ago at the 1979 United States Open.
That's when Tracy Austin forced Evert to contemplate the reservoir of her tennis ambitions. Evert was only 24, but Austin was 16. Suddenly, the It gal was passed by the Now teen in a 6-4, 6-3 final that prompted Evert's self-analysis.
"My feeling in that match was, 'O.K., I've come up against somebody who is a better model of me at that stage,' " Evert recalled in a recent interview. " 'I've come up against somebody who is much more eager, who hits the ball harder, who's mentally tougher.'
"It was humiliating. All I heard was, 'Now Chris is going to get a taste of her own medicine' from the older women."
In that moment on the court, Chris became one of the older women. She needed to stop, think and breathe something other than tennis.
"I took three months off," said Evert, who went by Evert Lloyd after her marriage that year to John Lloyd. "I had just gotten married. I always feel that it's like a seven-year itch. I think there's a seven-year period with a wild cycle to it, and I had been on the Tour seven years without a break. I'd just gotten married, and definitely my priorities were shifting a little bit.
"I was a wife, and a veteran on the Tour. I had a few more things going on than when I was 17, when I had nothing but tennis and I could devote all my emotions to it."
So for three months, she explored a world beyond the baseline. Free to do as she pleased, she could be as domestic as she wanted to be.
"I went to Palm Springs with my husband and cooked dinner," Evert said with a laugh. "I went for my two-mile runs during the day and worked out a little bit and went to movies. And then after three months, it was like, 'Is this all there is?'
"In a sense, my match with Tracy was a wake-up call; it was great for me in the long run. It was like, 'Chrissie, you've got to work harder and re-evaluate.' It takes a lot of thought to ask yourself, 'Do you want to go to that next level?' "
The answer came from her love for the game. Her passion worked wonders. Soon, she was back on top, ready to extend a tennis lifespan that lasted 10 more amazing years.
Such epiphanies are in short supply on today's Tour. All around, the top players continue to take breaks disguised as injuries to indulge in outside interests.
Evert once returned from a breather with clarity after three months. But after eight months away last winter and this spring, Serena Williams has resurfaced seemingly more conflicted than ever.
"She definitely needs to recommit, because she's doing a lot of stuff," Evert said. "I don't care what anybody says, that's got to distract her a little bit.
"She spent a lot of time in Hollywood. You know, I saw her in every magazine. She's hot property now, and she's being pulled in a lot of directions, and it's very enticing for her. When you do take time off, you tend to come back with a better perspective on what you miss. Maybe, in her case, she came back thinking she doesn't like it that much."
That may be the difficult truth. What comes first for Serena, the game or the fame? Her inability to decide has been a great equalizer. Since her return in the spring, she has lurched along, winning one week, being upset the next, citing injuries in between, plunging to No. 11 in the ranking.
Her losses aren't news anymore - and Justine Henin-Hardenne has barely played.
Henin-Hardenne vanished for months with a viral infection. Upon her return at the Athens Games, she appeared giddy even for the queen of glum, as if she were returning to an old flame, not a laborious job.
"It's difficult for you to imagine the states of depression I went through," Henin-Hardenne said after her gold-medal victory. "I realize how fortunate I am just to be able to be on the court. So I'm really glad to have had the chance to be able to give 100 percent."
Some players need an absence to rediscover their love. Others try to make do with part-time desire.
Twenty-five years ago, Chris Evert had to decide which direction to take. These days, Evert has found meaningful outlets in her life after tennis - like raising her three boys and working as a women's advocate in the fight against osteoporosis. But while on the job she loved, despite all the distractions of being the It gal, her attention span was devoted to tennis. She chose tennis, not indifference.