Should you needany more evidence that Someone Up There has a warped sense of humor, considerthe fate of Chris Evert. During her 17-year reign atop women's tennis, Evertwas cast--superficially and inaccurately--as America's Sweetheart, as puritydistilled to its essence, as the paragon of femininity. Particularly whencontrasted to her more muscular rival, Martina Navratilova, Evert was, to many,proof that a girlie-girl could still be an elite athlete.
Today Evert is practically drowning in testosterone. She is the mother of threeboys--Alex, Nicky and Colton, ages 14, 12 and 10, respectively--and the wife ofa former Olympic skier, Andy Mill, who hasn't lost his taste for risk. Thefamily's sprawling 13,500-square-foot home in Boca Raton, Fla., doubles as arepository of dirt bikes, lacrosse sticks, skateboards and paintball artillery.Suffice it to say, the TV in the den is seldom tuned to Lifetime. "It's,um, an active household," Evert says, "but I think I was meant to be amother of boys. They're not high maintenance. They don't fight over flowerydresses. They have one favorite T-shirt and a favorite pair of pants, andthat's it. If I had a little Chrissie, I'd be too critical."
The closest thing Evert has to a daughter is Anna Tatishvili, a 16-year-oldfrom Georgia (the country, not the state) who is currently No. 65 in the worldjunior rankings. For the first time since concluding her glorious career, Evertis mentoring a young player. She chose Tatishvili as much for the girl'sdemeanor as for her talent. "She's almost too good to be true," saysEvert. "She's the nicest kid ever, but her discipline and work ethic arejust unbelievable." The characterization will, of course, sound familiar tomost tennis fans.
Today's WTA Touris saturated with players whose outsized images mask marginal accomplishmentson the court. Consider Maria Sharapova, who, to date, has won one Grand Slamsingles title but will earn in the neighborhood of $20 million in endorsementincome this year. Evert may have suffered the opposite fate. She was so likablethat her persona might have overshadowed truly impressive accomplishments. Toreview the highlights: She won each of the four Grand Slam singles titles atleast twice. She went 13 straight years winning at least one major. Her careermatch winning percentage, 90.1, remains the highest in the Open era. "Idon't know how you can talk about the best ever and not include Chris,"Navratilova said recently.
While Navratilovanever kicked her jones for competition and is still a member of the tenniscaravan, Evert retired in 1989 and moved seamlessly into the second set oflife. "For those first 10 years every morning felt like vacation," shesays. "I hadn't realized how much pressure had built up inside me. I got mylife back. Around the same time I met my husband and had kids. And then you'retotally knocked off your pedestal. One day I was traveling on private jets.Suddenly you're traveling with a baby and your hair's a mess and there'sthrow-up on your shoulder. It's not just about you."
Even today, withher kids in school, "me time" can be a rare commodity for Evert. Alongwith her younger brother, John, she runs her eponymous tennis academy in BocaRaton. She retains a lengthy roster of sponsors and makes innumerable personalappearances. Her charitable foundation has raised $14 mil- lion for needychildren throughout Florida. And she serves as publisher of Tennis magazine,for which she writes a monthly column.
July 2, 2006
Still, as she isthe first to admit, she lives a charmed life. She summers with her family inAspen, Colo., where she and Mill were introduced to each other by Navratilova.She spent a chunk of June cruising the Greek islands with Barbara and GeorgeH.W. Bush, a move that has strained her relationship with Navratilova, whosepolitics veer somewhere to the left of Che Guevara's. She keeps up her tennis(including a weekly date with her parents, Jimmy and Colette), works out anddoes yoga. Not coincidentally, she could pass for a decade younger than her 51years.
Like many playersof her era, Evert is ambivalent about the current state of the women's game.She loves that players can earn stratospheric sums of money, but she wonders ifthe big bucks haven't roughened the soul of the tour. Her kinship withNavratilova--once, before they met in a Grand Slam final, one of them had herperiod, and together they searched the locker room for a tampon--would beimpossible today. "I don't think the women stick together to make it abetter circuit," Evert says. "Everything has been given tothem."
She also recentlymade waves when she used her Tennis column to call out Serena Williams. "Idon't see how acting and designing clothes can compare with the pride of beingthe best tennis player in the world," Evert wrote. While Evert never heardanything back from the Williams camp, she was amused by the stir that her openletter caused. "I'm not confrontational by nature," she says, "butif I believe in something, I'll step out of my comfort zone. Maybe thatsurprised people."
As long as she'sshattering that image as the archetypal Girl Next Door, this must be the momentwhen Evert admits that she climbs aboard a skateboard and even joins the boysfor a round of paintball, right? "Let's not get carried away here," shesays. "In fact, feel free to tell your readers that I still have all myteeth."