Legends of the game # 6 – Chris Evert

Christine Marie “Chris” Evert born December 21, 1954 in Florida and began taking tennis lessons from her father at the age of five.  By 1969, she had become the No. 1 ranked 14-under girl in the United States. In 1970, Evert won the national 16-under championship and was invited to play in an eight player clay court tournament in CharlotteNorth Carolina. She announced her arrival on the world stage at this tournament when the then 15 year-old Evert defeated Françoise Durr 6–1, 6–0 in the first round before defeating Margaret Court 7–6, 7–6 in a semi-final. Court was the World No. 1 player at the time and had just won the Grand Slam in singles. Evert lost to Nancy Richey 6-4, 6-1 in the final.

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Evert made her Grand Slam tournament debut at the 1971 U.S. Open, aged 16 losing to Billie Jean King in a semi-final (6–3, 6–2). In 1973 Evert was the runner-up at the French Open and the Wimbledon Tournament. A year later, she won both those events during her then record 55 consecutive match win streak, which included eight other tournament wins. She ended 1974 with at 100–7 match record, winning 16 tournaments including two Grand Slams (French and Wimbledon) and was a finalist in her first Australian Open, and for a fourth straight year, reached the semi-finals at the U.S. Open.

For the next five years, Evert was the world’s No. 1 player. In 1975, she won her second French Open and the first of four straight U.S. Open titles by defeating Evonne Goolagong in a three-set final. The following 1976 season was the only time in her career where she won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open titles in the same year. She defeated Goolagong in a three-set final on the grass 6-3 4-6 8-6, and then on the clay at Forest Hills 6-3 6-0. In all, Evert won 26 of 39 matches with Goolagong in one of the great rivalries in her career.

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1977 and 1978 saw Evert continue to dominate the women’s game, winning two more U.S. Opens, the final one played at Forest Hills on clay (1977) and the inaugural one on hard courts at Flushing Meadow (1978). She won 18 of 25 tournaments, with a 126-7 match record, failing only once to reach at least the semi-finals during that span.

The Rivals

A new rival to Evert’s dominance emerged on the scene in the later part of the 1970s in the form of Martina Navratilova. Though frequent doubles partners, and good friends off the court, their fierce on-court rivalry is remembered as one of the greatest in tennis history.

Evert had the best of their earlier encounters, at one point holding a 30–18 edge. However, in late 1982 Navratilova overhauled her game and fitness to begin a 13 match win streak that culminated in dramatic fashion at the 1984 U.S. Open, on what came to be known as Super Saturday. They entered the final with 30 match wins a piece. In a thrilling three set win, Navratilova overcame a first set deficit and a decidedly pro-Evert crowd to win 4–6, 6–4, 6–4. They played each other an incredible 80 times from 1973 to 1988. Eventually the Evert-Navratilova rivalry saw a final match record of 43–37, in favour of Martina. 

Their rivalry was intensified by the fact that, while their personalities were a study in contrasts, so too were their playing styles representative of those differences. Evert, the picture of consistency and patience, impeccably placed ground strokes, and an iron will that got stronger with added pressure. Navratilova, the emotional, volatile, relentlessly aggressive player, attacking at every opportunity, and arguing line calls while joking with spectators.

“Her fans appreciated what she stood for and my fans appreciated what I stood for,” Evert said. “It was about how we looked, how we acted, our style, where we came from.”

“But I think in the end,” Evert reflected, “we both realised that we pushed each other and made the other one a much better player.” More emphatically, says Martina, “There never will be another Chris and Martina show. There never was another like it and there never will be another.”


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Queen of the clay 

Though successful on all surfaces, it was on clay courts where Evert was most dominant. Beginning in August 1973, she won 125 consecutive matches on the surface; a run which included taking the French Open Championship in 1974 and 1975. The streak was broken on May 12, 1979, in a semi-final of the Italian Open, when Evert lost to Tracy Austin 6–4, 2–6, 7–6(4). It is the best record on clay of any player for any single surface. Statistics: 71 of the 258 sets (or 28%) were 6-0. Only 8 of the 125 matches were three-setters. Evert did not lose a set on clay in 1973, 76-78. She had runs of 76, 65, and 50 consecutive sets won during the streak. 

Evert rebounded from the loss in Italy with another clay court run that reached 64 matches (including titles at the 1979 and 1980 French Open) before ending with a semi-final loss to eventual winner Hana Mandlíková at the 1981 French Open. These two runs of clay court dominance resulted in a record of 189 victories in 191 matches on clay from 1973 to 1981. 

Chris Evert would go on to claim the French title again in 1983, 1985 and 1986 for an all time record seven times; a record for both men and women until equalled in 2012 by Rafael Nadal. The closest other women players to win the French multiple times in the Open era are Steffi Graf with six titles and Justine Henin with four. 

Evert reached the finals or semi-finals in 52 of the 56 Grand Slams she contested. In total, of the record 34 Grand Slam finals reached (refer table below), Evert won 18 Grand Slam singles titles: seven at the French Open, six at the U.S. Open (an open era record – 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978,1980, 1982), three at Wimbledon (1974, 1976, 1981), and two at the Australian Open (both on grass – 1982, 1984). In addition, Evert won three grand slam doubles titles, at the French in 1974 with Olga Morozova, and 1975 with Navratilova, and again with Navratilova at Wimbledon in 1976. 

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Chris Evert retired from the professional tour in 1989. During her career, she won 157 singles titles and 32 doubles titles. She won at least one Grand Slam singles title for 13 consecutive years (1974-1986), a record for both men’s and women’s tennis. She reached the semi-finals in 273 of the 303 tournaments she entered. Evert won the WTA Tour Championships four times (1972, 1973, 1975, 1977) and helped the United States win the Fed Cup eight times. Evert’s last match was a 6–3, 6–2 win over Conchita Martínez in the final of the 1989 Fed Cup. 

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Chris Evert was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1995 and was WTA President from 1975-76 and 1983-91 and since her retirement has been involved with the Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic. The annual tournament has raised over USD$20.6 million in an ongoing campaign against drug abuse and child neglect in Florida.

Asked in interview,”When you look back, what would you pin-point as the greatest match you played. Or at least your favorite match of those you played?” 

Evert replied, “I think the ’85 French Open, when I beat Martina. When you are young, you don’t appreciate the wins as much and I had gone through a lot as far as the ups and downs of my game. At that time, Martina was number one and I had had a real dry spell with her. It was such a suspenseful match…”

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 Sources: Wikipedia, chrisevert.net, chrisevert.org , youtube