The Chrissie Room in Chris Evert's sprawling Spanish-style home in Boca Raton, Fla., is filled with candles and couches and a heart-shaped painting. It's where the eponym and her girlfriends come to hang out, sip wine, watch movies and talk about life. In a former incarnation, the room was used as an office by Evert's then husbands Andy Mill and Greg Norman. It doesn't take a licensed therapist to suggest.... "Yes," Evert says, preempting the inevitable question, "I de-maled the space."
Chris Evert turns (gulp) 57 this month and in some ways—mostly physically—she is exactly as you recall her. As for her image as the Girl Next Door ... well, 1) unless you have a mansion on five acres, she isn't, sadly, your neighbor, and 2) the characterization, never too accurate to begin with, took a hit in recent years as she divorced Mill in 2006, married Norman two years later, and then split with him after 15 months. "It's been a tough few years, a lot of self-analysis," she says, "but I'm coming out of it O.K."
She is devoted to her sons (Alex, 20; Nicky, 17; and Colton 15), who live in South Florida during the year and spend summers with Mill in Aspen. When Evert is not working for ESPN—drawing high marks for her bracingly honest on-air commentary—she and her brother, John, oversee the Evert Academy, a well-regarded tennis hothouse tasked by the USTA with producing the next American champion. Her popular annual pro-celeb event has raised more than $20 million for Florida charities. "It sounds so cliché, I can't believe I'm saying this," she laughs. "But if you're not in a good place, be of service to others. Trust me, it's true."
On mental strength: "You know it if you have it. It was like Martina's physical gifts. There were players I could say, 'You know what? You have more talent, but you can't stay in every point the way I can.' I was born with the ability to concentrate. Some top players like to win. Some need to win."
On women's tennis: "There's definitely a vacuum at the top, no leader, no rivalry. Look at the past champions. Start with Billie Jean, me, Martina, Steffi, Monica. What's the common thread? We wanted it and committed ourselves. And there was such a desire and hunger. You don't see that anymore."
On her drive: "It comes from different places for different people. Me? I know how I was [portrayed], but we didn't have a lot of money growing up. I had three pairs of shoes: one for school, one for church and sneakers. Maybe some of my hunger was from that. Maybe I liked the attention. Maybe I liked being good at something at a young age."
On marriage: "It's up and down. When things started to go downhill, my mistake was not nailing it right then. I suppressed it like I did everything in my life. That's why I was so great on the court—I could compartmentalize. My real lesson: If you're in a marriage and you're growing apart, don't wait. You need to deal with problems when they come."
On entitlement: "It's not all about you. And that can be hard for an athlete to get. And sometimes, patient as I was in my tennis, I had times when I was impulsive in my personal life. Entitlement is out of my life now. Vanished."
On karma: "You know, you can't get away with things. It always catches up with you. I'm spiritual. Five years ago, that's when I went off the path a bit and pretty much broke up the family. That wasn't me. My usual mindfulness didn't kick in at all. I've always gone the straight road in everything. This man came and swept me off my feet and ... there was guilt and sadness. It was a terrible feeling."
On success: "As a child it's hard to have fame. You develop before your personality and your values develop, and it's confusing. Having everything done for you is just not conducive to developing as a human being. You get to a point where everyone tells you how great you are. And you have people working for you: 'You worry about your sport; we'll take care of everything else.' I think I handled it as well as I could have. But I didn't take chances, venture out, learn things. I'm learning a lot now, whether it's fixing the air conditioner or cooking or investing. I'm 56, and it should have happened when I was 36, but it's empowering. I say to my financial people, 'Wait, we only have three percent in international? It needs to be nine percent!' I may lose a s---load of money, but at least it was my decision!"