US Open Icon: Chris Evert
Published August 27, 2011 01:33
Chris Evert announced herself to the world as a steely 16-year-old, saving six match points against Mary Ann Eisel in the second round of the 1971 US Open at Forest Hills. Although Billie Jean King ended the run of the so-called 'Cinderella in Sneakers' in the semis, the 'Old Lady' of tennis admitted to a panic attack. "A star was born in my eyes that week," King would say - but even she could not have guessed at what was to come.
By the time she made her swansong at Flushing Meadows nearly two decades after her debut, Evert had won 101 matches at the US Open - still more than any other player, male or female - for just 12 losses. She had reached at least the semis on 17 of 19 attempts and lifted the trophy six times - the Open Era record - including four times in a row (1975-78, another record). Evert also has the distinction of being the only woman to win the title on two surfaces, clay and hardcourts.
While Evert's baseline resolve and peerless passing shots secured her first four US titles over net-friendly opponents - Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Wendy Turnbull and Pam Shriver - she met her match in the semis in 1979 when she was dethroned by 16-year-old Tracy Austin. But, while a string of losses to her mirror image would send Evert into a sabbatical, she returned to Flushing Meadows 12 months later revitalized. After dropping the first set of her semi against Austin, 25-year-old Evert played flawlessly to prevail, 46 61 61. She beat Hana Mandlikova in the final for her fifth US title (and again in 1982 for her sixth and final triumph).
As well as that loss to Austin, Evert was runner-up to Martina Navratilova in New York on two occasions. The 61 63 result in 1983 reflected Navratilova's domination of Evert at the time. In 1984, the 46 64 64 outcome showed Evert was closing the gap with her greatest rival - but the closeness of the match made the loss one of the hardest to take.
Evert made her final assault on the title five years later, as the No.4 seed at the age of 34. When she found the net with a forehand return of serve her Fed Cup teammate Zina Garrison advanced to the semis, 76(1) 62. The gloomy weather suited the occasion; as 'Chris America' gave a final wave to the adoring fans on Louis Armstrong Stadium there was barely a dry eye in the house. Garrison cried too.
But perhaps the match best worth remembering was the round before, when Evert produced a vintage display to rout a young 12th-seeded Monica Seles, 60 62. It was a match few expected the veteran to win - a powerful performance that sent a very clear message. She would have been great in any era.
Chrissie's US Open highlights:
Champion (6): 1975 (d. Goolagong), 1976 (d. Goolagong), 1977 (d. Turnbull), 1978 (d. Shriver), 1980 (d. Mandlikova), 1982 (d. Mandlikova)
Runner-Up (3): 1979 (l. Austin), 1983 (l. Navratilova), 1984 (l. Navratilova)
Years contested (19): 1971-1989
Singles Win-Loss Record: 101-12