If anyone should beware the Ides of March this year, it is Martina Navratilova. The Slims tournament in Boston will be under way on that fateful day, and Navratilova probably needs neither blind soothsayers nor Paul Revere to let her know that Chris Evert will be there, ready to play her first competitive tennis of the year. And from the sounds of it, she will be ready.
It has been more than three months since Evert delighted the other women on the tour by announcing that she needed a long rest, that she was going home to Fort Lauderdale, have a nice visit with the family and friends and, above all, not play tennis. Her father predicted that she would quickly become bored, but such has not been the case. "I didn't touch a racket for six weeks," she says. "I haven't gone to the Mediterranean or Hawaii or anyplace exotic like that, but it's been very pleasant. Now I'm eager to play again."
Chris did venture outside Florida a couple of times, once going to New York, once to Los Angeles. Business, mostly, visiting with her dress designer, posing for Helene Curtis ads. "I can't see my endorsements when I'm playing." she says. "On the tour all I think about is tennis."
In California she went apartment hunting, having been traded from the Phoenix Racquets to the Los Angeles Strings of World Team Tennis. She also played a little golf, coached by the noted low handicapper James Scott Connors. "He's really excellent," she says. "I'm O.K. around the greens but not so hot off the tee. Not strong enough, I guess."
March 6, 1978
Just before Christmas, Evert went to the closet, hauled out the old racket and began hitting the ball with her sister Jeannie, 20, who is also a pro. Nothing serious, just something to get back in touch with the game. "I wanted to stay in some kind of shape for the time when I began to work hard," she says.
That time came three weeks ago. Every day she has been rising around 9:30—"I enjoy my sleep"—fixing herself a breakfast of hot tea and yogurt or cereal and climbing into the family Cutlass with her father Jimmy for a half-hour drive to an indoor complex in North Miami called the Four Seasons. There she has been playing with a local pro for 1½ hours under the watchful eye of her father. Then it's back home for a break until four. "I collapse," Evert says. "I have a snack and make a lot of phone calls."
At four it's over to Marina Bay with her brothers Drew, 24, and John, 16, for a little two-on-one, the old Harry Hopman formula for whipping his Davis Cuppers into shape. "We switch around," she says. "If you're doing two-on-one properly, you can't take more than five minutes at a time." She and her brothers and Jeannie never play actual sets. "We fight," she explains. "What we do is play points. One player serves 10 times, then the other. It breaks the monotony."
During the evenings Chris has become re-acquainted with old friends she rarely has a chance to see anymore. Jeannie has a beau who plays the guitar at Chuck's Steak House in town, so the Evert girls are frequent visitors, listening to music, digging the scene.
It will not come as good news for the others on the Slims tour that Chris thinks she is just about in fighting trim, but then it will not surprise them either. "I'm hitting the ball clean," she says. "I'm enjoying practice, something I hadn't for some time." Besides hitting tennis balls, she has been jumping rope and running two miles every evening on the beach. "It's the only place I'd run," she says. "There's the salt air and the view to keep my mind off running."
In no way, Evert insists, has Navratilova's string of victories coaxed her back to the tour sooner than she had planned. "Martina deserves all the success she's had," Chris says. "I'm really happy for her. I had always planned on getting a couple of tournaments under my belt before team tennis began, and Boston was the first."
Martina plans to be there, too, as well as Virginia, Billie Jean and Evonne. It should be some reunion.