'I've Lived A Charmed Life'

But not all has been easy for Chris Evert, who in a candid interview, discusses her fears and insecurities, her image, Martina and the price she paid to become a champion
May 24, 1992

Sports Illustrated: Do you think you'll ever play tennis again?

Evert (laughing): Oh, I don't think so. I don't mean this to be a put-down of other players, but after being at the top, I don't think I could play senior tournaments, because you know how good you were. I don't know if I would enjoy that, being half of what I was. I could be wrong, but as of now, that's the way I feel.

SI: Is being a mother enough for you?

CE: Being a mother of one child, and possibly two, having Andy as my husband, living in Aspen and Boca Raton, doing broadcasting and fulfilling my endorsements is definitely enough for me. You know, it's funny, I'm not an overly ambitious person; I don't feel like I have to excel. I don't think I will ever be as intense in anything I do as I was in tennis.

SI: When you watched Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova play the U.S. Open last year, did a little voice inside say maybe you could have slipped into the semifinals or finals, too?

CE: In the last few years of my career I still had my high moments. The problem was, I had more low moments. When you get to the last few years, it's still very possible to reach the finals or the semifinals of a tournament like the U.S. Open, but you might lose in the round of 16 at San Francisco. That's the difference.

SI: What was it like dealing with that?

CE: You have to deal with yourself and how you feel, because you have a lot of matches you don't care that much about anymore. You start saying to yourself, Why am I doing this? Do I need this aggravation? And you have to deal with the public's perception of you, the write-ups: "She's over the hill; she should have retired." The question is, What's the right time to retire? It will be interesting to see when Martina decides that.

SI: Do you get any sense of (hat from her?

CE: As long as she wants to keep playing, she should. I said this once before about Jimmy—and I didn't mean to say it the way I said it—but eventually you have to go on to something else. Why do you stay in the game as long as you do? A lot of people do because they don't have anything else in their life that's more special.

SI: They haven't found anything to replace winning?

CE: Right. If I hadn't had Andy, if I had been single and alone and insecure, maybe I would have stayed in the game. But I felt sort of grounded, so I felt like I could make the move in a graceful way.

SI: You once said that tennis was a need. What need did it fulfill?

CE: I was very insecure when I was young. I was shy and introverted. When I went out on the tennis court, I could express myself. It was a way of getting reactions from people, like my father. I really admired my dad and put him on a pedestal, and I wanted his attention. Whether it's ego or insecurity or whatever, when you start winning and getting attention, you like it, and that feeling snowballs. You start to feel good about yourself. You feel complete and proud of yourself.

SI: Does it irritate you when young players talk about how much more exciting women's tennis is today?

CE: Sure. I was really sensitive right after I retired. It was hard. I've been in the game for more than 20 years, and I've seen cycles. Believe me, tennis has been as exciting as it is now. In the years with Billie Jean [King], Evonne [Goolagong], Martina, Margaret Court, Virginia [Wade], Rosie [Casals] and myself, for a brief period you had five or six huge draws, and tennis was very exciting.

The reason I was sensitive about this after I retired is that I felt it was personal. Like, "Chris is out of the game, and now it's more exciting." I mean, I know I wasn't the most exciting player. I was sensitive when they would compare me to other players. Like, "Jennifer [Capriati] comes to the net more than Chris ever did, and Monica [Seles] hits the ball harder." But I understand it. They use me as a barometer.

SI: Is it true that you were one of the most accomplished joke tellers in the locker room?

CE: Yeah. Well, I have a dirty sense of humor.

SI: The public doesn't know that.

CE: Good. I don't want people to know everything about me.

SI: Will you tell a joke?

CE: To you? In print?

SI: Do you have one that's fit to tell?

CE: I'm thinking.

SI: Do you know any clean jokes?

CE: Not that are funny. There are no funny clean jokes.

SI: It's interesting that people don't know how funny you are.

CE: Well, it was anything but funny watching me play. I had this grim look on my face the whole time. When you're in the public eye, you don't want 100 percent of yourself to be known. The public doesn't really know who I am, anyway.

SI: It doesn't?

CE: I don't know. I mean, when John Feinstein was interviewing me for his book [Hard Courts] about the tour, he said he heard I was pro-choice on the abortion issue. I said, "So?" And he said, "Well, you never said it."

Well, no one had ever asked me. No one had ever asked me how I felt about a lot of things. I guess I'm not controversial. I have never really wanted to be. I don't think I'm an aggressive person. Sometimes I wish I were.

SI: Do von regret having told Feinstein that you once smoked marijuana?

CE: The only reason I admitted I had tried it was to say that there is nothing positive about it. If you want to feel good and feel high, then you go for a run; you don't smoke a joint. I said one sentence to Feinstein, and then I saw the headlines. I'm sorry, but in the '70s I did try marijuana. In the '70s that was the thing to try. So I did experiment. It was the worst thing I ever did, because it totally clogged my brain. I couldn't think.

SI: People seem taken aback when you admit things like that.

CE: So what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to hide these things, or are you supposed to admit to every little human thing that you've done? It's a tough call. That's a struggle for me.

SI: What else does the public not know about you?

CE: Without getting into it, just that I'm not as goody two shoes as people think. They think that I am squeaky clean. I'm a normal woman. I've dated a lot of guys, I've had a few drinks, I've told dirty jokes, I've cursed, I've been rude to my parents. I'm a normal person.

SI: So you're a regular red-blooded American woman?

CE: Yeah. I always felt dating and male companionship were important. Being in a relationship was important, whether because of insecurity or because I wanted to feel needed. Who knows? I'm far from perfect. I guess I felt a little uncomfortable with my image when it got to be squeaky clean, because I know I'm no angel. There's nothing in my life, no skeletons in my closet, that people should be so shocked about. But I've lived a normal life for a woman 37 years old.

SI: You're viewed as very correct.

CE: I try to be correct. I'm conservative in most things. But when it comes to my emotions, I'm totally out there. I've taken chances in my relationships and with my emotions.

SI: Were you more emotional in the locker room than on court?

CE: I'd wait. I'd cry in the shower. The only unemotional moments I've had were on the tennis court. I hid my feelings so well. And when I hit the locker room or saw my parents or Andy, it would all come out.

SI: Why didn't you show your emotions on the court?

CE: When I look back and see myself with that little grim, fixed expression, I wonder, because that's not me. I think my father instilled it in me at a young age. I remember his telling me, "Don't show any emotion; it will be to your advantage because your opponent will be frustrated." And you know, it worked. So I stayed with it. But it wasn't me the person. It was just me the tennis player.

SI: Was being a role model a responsibility you wanted?

CE: I never sought it, but I was placed in the position. So you do the best you can with it. It's how you perform on the court and conduct yourself, and how you deal with defeat. Those are the qualities people should look at, not whether you're gay or how many guys you've dated. Certain things are just not important; they don't have to do with your character. Your character is revealed in how you handle stressful situations.

SI: Martina has said that being gay has hurt her in the marketplace, but she has also said that playing against Chris America hurt her, too. Is she right?

CE: Yeah. I grew up, um, I don't want to say a real American, because Martina's American, but I didn't defect. And right from the start I was sort of different from the stereotypical woman athlete. Along with Evonne and Maria Bueno, I probably helped bring some femininity into a sport that was pretty masculine at the time. I think the public liked that. And I agree with Martina. Being gay has hurt her with endorsements. That's just the way it is. It's difficult, because in terms of her being a role model, I would tell my child to look at the way she conducts herself on the court. Look at how she fights for every point. And look how honest she is with people. I guess a lot of parents aren't ready for that yet.

SI: How friendly are you with Martina now?

CE: There are no more petty jealousies or ill feelings, because I've retired. We spent a lot of emotional Sundays in locker rooms, and whether I won or she won, the other one comforted the other. So, emotionally, there's a lot of caring between us. If she called me and wanted me to do something, I'd do it in a minute, and if I called her, I know I could depend on her. Now that I've had a baby we can have an even stronger bond, because I can share that part of my life with her. She loves kids, and she's interested in them. We also live in the same place [Aspen], so we can do more things together. The pressure's off. We're not threatening to each other anymore.

SI: Do you think you're a good mother?

CE: I don't know if I'm a good mother, because Alex is only seven months old. Ask me when he's 18 and not in jail. But I feel that I'm a loving mother, and I give him a lot of attention.

SI: Do you think your parents did it right?

CE: I was lucky. My parents did it right in that era. They did it right to produce a champion. I don't know if they did it right to develop a person. I feel like I'm fine now, but during that time of playing junior tournaments. I wasn't allowed to do a lot of things. I still wonder if my tennis would have been kept back if I had been able to be more sociable with kids my age and go out on dates and to parties and stuff. I think my parents felt those things would have held me back.

SI: Did you talk to them about those things?

CE: It was hard as a child because they were the boss. It's taken years and years to...I mean, we've talked about how they raised me until we're blue in the face now. My parents have mellowed a lot. And it didn't hurt me for life. I made up for it, let's put it that way. Once I was on my own, I made up for it. As far as developing as a person, tennis can inhibit that. It can restrict anybody.

SI: What will you do differently with Alex?

CE: Again, I could write a book on being brought up. I think one thing I'm going to do differently—and it's only one thing because in everything else my parents were wonderful—is listen a little bit better than they listened. They didn't have time. When you're running a household of five kids, you don't have a lot of time to chitchat. You know, it was, "Go to bed." And you'd say, "Can you just listen to my side?" "Go to bed." But I'll listen to him even if he's live years old, and if he wants to do something, I'll talk to him about it.

SI: When did you finally grow up?

CE: I started soul-searching when I was 28, and that went on to about 32. Then I caught up to where I should be. Being a tennis player puts a lot of reactions and emotions on hold.

SI: What are the qualities that make a champion?

CE: They're all negative qualities. At least they were for me. When I look at the players who have made it year after year, like Billie Jean, Monica and Steffi [Graf], I see intensity. And again, that might come from a negative—from insecurity, from seeking attention. It might come from, "I want to prove something."

SI: Could it come from love?

CE: Are you kidding? Love? Billie Jean said 10 or 15 years ago that she hated to lose more than she loved to win. That's the truth. You hate to lose more than you love to win.

SI: How much did you hate it?

CE: Oh, I hated it. I hated it. I think you have to have that. And you have to have an arrogance to maintain a high level of confidence. Most of the time I kept it inside. But, boy, it was there. You know you're better than the other players because there are so many times when you're down 5-3 in the third set and you don't get worried. You still know you're going to win. That's true arrogance.

SI: Were you aware of that arrogance as a player?

CE: Oh, I knew. I was aware of all my qualities as a player. I recognized them and justified them. In my mind I thought, Well, while I'm playing, the people around me who are close to me have to understand that I'm going to be moody, that I'm going to have a short temper at times, that I don't have a lot of patience. You just get so involved. And everything revolves around you. I was aware of it. And the last three years, I didn't like it.

In fact, all during my career I had qualms about it. When I was in grade school and we had to write papers about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I wanted to be a social worker or a missionary or a teacher. I always wanted to help people. Then I got involved with tennis, and everything was just me, me, me. I was totally selfish and thought about myself and nobody else, because if you let up for one minute, someone was going to come along and beat you. I really wouldn't let anyone or any slice of happiness enter. But the last few years I looked at Andy, and I yearned to start a family. I didn't like the characteristics that it took to become a champion.

SI: Have YOU ever faced real adversity?

CE: I've lived a charmed life. The toughest time in my life so far has been when I divorced John Lloyd [in 1987]. I started to deal with a lot of issues then. I had to deal with the fact that he is a great guy and a great husband, and there is nothing wrong with him. I had to do a lot of soul-searching for about two years: What's wrong with this relationship? How come I'm feeling the way I am? How come I'm not happy? And then the hurting. If I did hurt him, that hurt me a lot.

You learn about yourself through those experiences. It's not that I've regretted not having adversity or not having pain in my life, because I've had such a good life. I don't want to wish too hard, because then it will happen, but I think you grow and learn through pain. And I haven't had a lot of pain.

SI: "What are you afraid of now?

CE: I think I've lived most of my life in fear. I've been afraid of things, whether it's losing a tennis match or criticism from people or going too fast on skis and hurting myself. The fear has been something I've always wanted to overcome, and I'm overcoming it more and more. There's still a lot of that in my life, but I think I'm finally being freed from it.

SI: One thing tennis gives you is a quantified answer that tells you who you are at the end of the day. What replaces that?

CE: In tennis, at the end of the day you're a winner or a loser. You know exactly where you stand, if you're No. 2 or No. 10, if you win or you lose. I don't need that anymore. I don't need my happiness, my well-being, to be based on winning or losing. That part of my life is over. My life is more vague now. But it's also more adventurous and mysterious. Bach day brings some little piece of happiness I never allowed myself to experience when I was playing.

PHOTOJEFF KATZThanks mainly to Alex and Andy, Chris says life after tennis has been a day at the beach. PHOTOTONY TRIOLO PHOTORUSS ADAMS

"When I look back and see myself with that grim, fixed expression I wonder, because that's not me."

"There are no more ill feelings. We're not threatening to each other anymore."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)