Chrissie's Swansong Remembered
Published September 08, 2009 04:32
NEW YORK, NY, USA - It seems like only yesterday, but this year's US Open quarterfinals mark the 20th anniversary of the retirement of one of the sport's towering figures: Chris Evert. On the Louis Armstrong Stadium, the setting of so many great moments in a career that spanned two decades, the 34-year-old American found the net with a forehand return of serve. With that her Fed Cup teammate Zina Garrison advanced to the semis, 76(1) 62.
The gloomy weather suited the occasion, for as 'Chris America' gave a final wave to the adoring New York fans there was barely a dry eye in the house. Even the vanquisher was swept up in the emotion. "I was the one crying at the net because Chris was such a great champion," Garrison recalled. "Chris was consoling me."
While it was no fairytale ending there was no shame in the loss, just the fourth pre-semifinal Grand Slam departure of a stellar - and phenomenally consistent - career punctuated by statistics that may never be bettered.
Evert first captivated the nation in 1971 when she reached the US Open semifinals as a 16-year-old debutante - dubbed 'Cinderella in Sneakers', it took top-ranked Billie Jean King to stop her - and from that point on she only ever failed to reach at least the final four of a major four times in 56 outings. A third round loss to Kathy Jordan at Wimbledon in 1983 finally snapped what remains the Open Era record for most consecutive Grand Slam semis or better - 34, extending from the 1971 US Open through to Roland Garros in 1983.
Along the way there were 18 Grand Slam singles titles, appropriately tied with her great rival Martina Navratilova, and fourth on the all-time list behind Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (22) and Helen Wills Moody (19). Seven of Evert's Slams were won at Roland Garros on her beloved clay; six came at the US Open; she won three times at Wimbledon (where she was runner-up no less than seven times) and twice at the Australian Open.
Indeed, Evert lifted at least one Grand Slam trophy a season for 13 years between 1973 and 1986.
She Made it Here, She Made it There, She Made it Everywhere...
Her 154 Tour singles titles second only to Navratilova's 167, Evert still owns the best win-loss percentage in pro tennis history (.900) and boasts the record of any player for a single surface - a 125-match win streak on clay that stretched from August 1973 until May 1979, when Tracy Austin defeated her in a third set tie-break in the semis at Rome.
She won 101 matches at the US Open, still more than any other player, male or female, for just 12 losses. She reached the semis on 17 of 19 visits to New York, first at Forest Hills and then at Flushing Meadows.
Injury kept Evert out of the first two Slams of the season on her final year on the Tour, but she was back at Wimbledon, where she drew on her trademark mental strength - and a dazzling backhand pass down the line - to avert disaster against Italy's Laura Golarsa in the quarters, before succumbing to Graf.
Third on the list of total weeks at No.1 (260) and having finished the season as No.1 five times, Evert walked away from the game if not at her peak, then still very much a member of the elite. As late as 1985, after her stunning win at Roland Garros, she briefly stole the top ranking from Navratilova - and remains the oldest player to ever have held the top spot (at 31 years, 10 months, 7days).
Between 1972 and 1989 she was never ranked lower than No.4 in the world.
Not for her would there be a protracted, sad-to-watch decline; the losses to lesser lights mounted towards the end, sure, but in the 1980s Evert actually remade herself into a more complete player, spurred by the off-court training and on-court attack of Navratilova. Their rivalry would end at 43-37 in Navratilova's favor, including an implausible 60 meetings in finals.
Fittingly, the two stars joined forces to win the Fed Cup for the United States a month or so after Evert's US Open exit, with Evert's final win coming over future Wimbledon champion Conchita Martínez of Spain.
But perhaps the match best worth remembering came the round before that loss to Garrison, when Evert produced a vintage display of pinpoint accuracy to rout a young 12th-seeded Monica Seles, 60 62. It was a match few expected the veteran to win, and a powerful performance that seemed to say: "I would have been great in any era."
Of course, Evert's legacy is not just about victories and statistics. Through it all, she was a key protagonist in the politics of the sport, serving a record nine terms as president of the WTA Players Association. Her mix of athletic achievement, wit, poise and traditional feminine deportment brought glamour to the baseline and provided the sport with a mainstream, crossover star at a crucial time. Most importantly, though, her example - with that peerless double-handed backhand and steely determination to make the most of herself - encouraged countless young girls to take up the game.
Sonyericssonwtatour.com will soon launch new web biographies of the retired greats of our game, starting with former world No.1s from the computer-ranking era: Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Tracy Austin, Jennifer Capriati, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Evonne Goolagong Cawley. We would like to publish a selection of thoughts, memories or anecdotes on each player, whether from former peers on the Tour, people who work behind-the-scenes in tennis, or indeed fans. Please send submissions (no longer than this paragraph) to Adam Lincoln at email@example.com.