Chris Evert had the best of both worlds. A father who taught her the game and kept her focused. And a mother who knew very little about the game and kept her grounded.
“I love my mother because she didn’t have a clue about tennis,” Evert says. “I mean, I took my mother to tournaments with me, because she never put any pressure on me. I remember driving out to the finals at Wimbledon. I was playing Evonne Goolagong in the finals, and she was in the car and says, ‘Oh, Chrissy, look at those beautiful roses!’ And I’m like, ‘Mom, really? I don’t want to talk, right now, about roses, about the English roses.’” But, she knew nothing about tennis, and I think that was her contribution.”
Evert recently spoke at the BNP Paribas Open during one of its Tennis Talk sessions held on the grounds earlier this week. She was the No. 1 player in the world for seven years, accumulating 18 Grand Slam titles during an amazing run in the 1970s and early 1980s. She still holds the record for appearing in 34 Grand Slam singles finals — male or female — and she also holds the record for 13 straight years of winning at least one Grand Slam title.
Evert spoke with Wayne Bryan, father and coach of the pro doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan.
What did you learn most from your dad, as a coach, and as a parent?
Evert: The first thing he taught me was “Never … Don’t miss a ball.” That was my game. I mean my game was built on, I think, consistency. It obviously wasn’t on power. And so, I learned on clay courts, which I think helped me to never miss a ball. He always said that the person who makes more errors will probably lose the match.
Wayne Bryan interviews Chris Evert at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden during the BNP Paribas Open.
Even at this stage, he’s probably right about that. As a dad, he taught ne hard work by example. He worked at a public tennis facility for over 50 years. He was there at 8 a.m. He was doing tennis lessons, managing 20 courts, and stringing rackets at the same time.
Are you glad you played in the era you did, or would you rather have played in this era?
Evert: Yes! I am so glad I played the ‘70s. I mean, weren’t the ‘70s great? I mean, in life, not only in tennis, but I mean it was kind of exciting and, you know, I remember that’s when, really, women’s liberation started. I would turn on the TV and see Gloria Steinem and, you know, the crusade and women burning their bras. And then in tennis, you know, Billy Jean, Rod Laver, Stan Smith and Jimmy Connors. I mean it was an unbelievable time. It was the start of the tennis boom and it was a great time. I appreciate the athletes that are playing out there today, because they are exceptional athletes and they have to put up with a lot more. A lot more pressure, a lot more media. They have to be in their little bubble because everything they do is going to be publicized and it’s not easy. You see all the great things that are going on, but, I mean, they have no privacy and that’s a big price.
Your favorite Grand Slam?
Evert: I love Wimbledon because of, the tradition the ivy, the royalty, the grass courts, and wearing all white. I love that it’s just different than any other grand slam. And I hope, you know, I hope it stays that way.
Who were your best friends on the tour and have remained so?
Evert: Pam Shriver, Martina Navratilova, Billy Jean King and Wendy Turnbull. Same now. I mean I’m very close with Billy Jean and very close with Martina, very close with Pam. Pam and I work together for ESPN.
Chris Evert on how her relationships with her close tennis friends has evolved: “You know, we’re vulnerable with each other because when you’re competing against your opponent, you don’t want to be vulnerable. You want to be tough.”
Would you say you’re closer after the tour?
Evert: Yes. We don’t have any barriers. We’re free with each other. You know, we’re vulnerable with each other because when you’re competing against your opponent, you don’t want to be vulnerable. You want to be tough. So, I think, it’s more revealing now. And also, we’ve all gone on to different lives. We’ve all gotten married; we’ve all had kids. We feel a part of something now that we didn’t before.
Is it a tough thing to retire? Were you looking forward to finishing? Was it a relief?
Evert: It was a relief. I mean, in my day at 34 years old, that was kinda old to retire. Now, it’s young. I started playing tennis when I was 6. Junior tournaments, pro tournaments from when I was like 13 or 14. So, I had a good 18, 20 years professionally. And mentally, I was burned out. My body was fine. I could have played, I think, another four or five years but mentally, I would wake up and not want to get out of bed and compete. I just was burned out. Mentally burned out. And plus I had just gotten married, and I was ready. I went out really nicely; it worked out well. I had children two years later. And so, I was ready for that next stage in my life.