Chris Evert, 1975

New faces and old, but the Evert era continues

By Mike Lupica, 1975

1975 was going to be the year something caught up with Chris Evert, the year anything caught up with her. She was advancing into her twenties, and her Miss Teenage days were behind her, and before she turned into a full-fledged American institution like General Motors or All in the Family, everyone was waiting for fate to step in and, well, at least slow her down.

Fate could take any form, as far as the rest of the women tennis pros were concerned: the anti-trust laws, a blemish, a couple of lousy backhands, a broken shoelace, anything. Maybe she would even lose a match every month or so. Maybe. Wrong.

This is what Chris Evert did in 1975: she won 16 of 22 tournaments, and 94 out of 100 matches; the only player to play her on equal terms was Billie Jean King, who split four matches with Chris, and now she doen’t even play singles anymore; she won over $363,000; she extended her winning streak on clay courts to 90 matches; she won the French Open, the Italian Open and the Family Circle Cup for the second consecutive year; she won her second Virginia Slims championship.

More? She won her first United States Open, just about the only major title to elude her this side of Florida seat in the US Senate; she won the L’eggs World Series of Women’s Tennis (and began 1976 by winning it again); her only real frustration came in blowing her semifinal match at Wimbledon against Billie Jean; she closed out 1975 by winning her last eight tournaments, and 35 straight matches.

By now, you must get the idea. Nothing was going to slow Chris Evert down in 1975, just like nothing – not even World Team Tennis, which she’ll join this year – looks like it can slow her down in 1976. Maybe in 1989 or so, she may start to slip a little.

There’s no doubt about it anymore. The kid is no flash in the pan.

Of course, what this remarkable success does is just put more pressure on this remarkable young woman. Each loss will become a curiosity item, something for those who collect weid pieces of trivia. Thirty years from now, a bunch of old dowdies will be sitting around on the tea room veranda at Wimbledon, wearing old Virginia Slims t-shirts, and be saying things like: “I remember the time she lost a match in seventy six…”
And she knows this, knows now even before she has reached full maturity that each time she steps on the tennis court she is under the most critical of microscopes, as those who still cannot comprehend her genius wait fo her fall. Did she lose only six matches last year? Maybe this year six losses may be too many as far as the public is concerned.

“You know, it’s funny,” she was saying early last year, home resting in Fort Lauderdale before she again rejoined the tour and her assault on all the records that mean anything in tennis.

“No matter what I do, it’s never quite enough. They always want something more from me.”

What that “more” is, perhaps only Chris Evert can ever know.

Each little slip of hers is regarded as some kind of portent of Bad Things to Come. She looked about ready to bury Billie Jean at Centre Court in King’s last Wimbledon, up 2-0 in the final set, and holding two break points. But then the indomitable King, who someday with Evert and Suzanne Lenglen will be the one of three women tennis players worth talking about in this century, reached down into her still-hungry spirit and came back to win.
So the critics wondered: what will happen to her confidence now? What happened? She went out over the last six months of the year and played better than she had in the first six months. So much for portents.

When she and her sometimes friend James Connors played Billie Jean and Marty Riessen in that Love Doubles thing in Las Vegas in December everyone waited for her to fold a little again. All Chris did that day was play the best tennis on court, better than King, better than Riessen, even better than Connors. Not only that, she was absolutely charming in the process. Each time she plays now, the myth of the Ice Maiden melts a little more.

“It’s a shame, the public doesn’t know the real Chris Evert like I do”, Billie Jean has always said. “I wish they could hear more of the things she says when we’re playing doubles, as partners or otherwise. She’s a fun person. I mean she’s really a fun person.”

She is not a racket thrower, or a tantrum thrower because she is simply not like that. She is one who worked hard, was taught to win, does not make mistakes. Wins.

“Boy, I worked hard on my game when I was younger,” she says, answering the unspoken question of how she has come to be the player she is. “I worked from the time when I was 15 and 16. I would always practice five or six hours a day. I mean, I was playing that much tennis in the hot sun.”
“I can’t do that now,” she continues? “I wouldn’t want to do that now. When I’m off the tour for any length of time, I still like to practice, but never more than ninety minutes, or two hours, at a time. I’m not a fanatic about it anymore.”

She has more interests away from tennis than she ever did, and that is no small feat for someone who for the last five years of he life has spent her time in airports and in hotels and on tennis courts, or commuting to wonderful places like that. But slowly she has cultivated an interest in photography. And now she has succeeded Billie Jean as president of the Women’s tennis Association, as that organization moves into the most crucial stage of its existence. No, she is no longer Miss Teenage Tennis. This girl is a woman now.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m the Old Lady,” she laughs, referring to the celebrated nickname for Billie Jean. “Some of the younger girls come up and ask for advice. Mostly, it’s the european girls, asking for advice on clothes and where to shop and thingd like that. But still I’m kind of flattered by that. They’re asking me the same kind of questions I asked the older players when I first came out on the tour.

Perhaps the question they should all be asking her is: How do we beat you? Chris’ game has more variety and substance than ever as she moves into 1976. Her volley has improved sixty percent in the last year, as evidenced by her surprisingly strong net play in the Love Doubles match. The announcers kept informing their viewers how suspect Chris was at the net, and Chris just kept swatting away short balls for winners.

“I’ve been working very hard on my volley and my second serve,” she said in ’75, “because I think they’re the two parts of my game that most need improvement – two of many.” So she went to work and improved them.

She is also even tougher on the court than ever before, and this was evidenced in the US Open final, when Evonne Goolagong, who again this year will be her most consistent nemesis, had her in deep trouble in the second set. But Chris, beneath that placid and seemingly impenetrable placid exterior is really a little hitwoman on the court, pulled heself together and won her first Open.

“My father taught me to win,” she says of Jimmy Evert, her only coach. “To give one hundred percent and to win.”

Dad done taught her good, right?

The competition for her this year on the Slims tour will be strong, of course. Free from political pressures, that new American citizen Martina Navratilova will be out to show that she indeed can become the world’s best player. And there are old familiar favorites – Margaret Court and Virginia Wade and Olga Morozova and Kerry Melville Reid – around to see if they can play a couple of winning tunes.

But, as always, Chris will be there, and Chris will be winning, and maybe 1976 will be the year she conquers what seems to be the only real problem left for her in tennis: How to handle Jimmy Connors.

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