She is only a girl—slightly built and pretty in a fresh, sparkling fashion. She is 16 years old, a slender 105 pounds with the look of a high school cheerleader. But now see her: long hair back, wooden tennis racket in her hand, the South Florida sun getting higher and hotter. Why isn't she camped out on the Fort Lauderdale beach, flirting with boys, enjoying herself?
But no, not Chris Evert. She is comfortable here, further committing herself to her ambition. Since mid-September of last year, when she gained international attention by beating Francoise Durr of France and Margaret Court of Australia on two heady days, she has steadily progressed to the forefront of American tennis. Next month she will play for the U.S. on the Wightman Cup team, the youngest competitor to have that honor since Maureen Connally was selected at the same age 20 years ago. When that happened, it was a prelude to six U.S. and Wimbledon championships for Little Mo.
Not that Chris looks like another Connally, not yet. Her impressive record against a galaxy of more experienced players is tainted because the victories have come on clay, her favorite surface. Durr, Court, Billie Jean King, Mary Ann Curtis and Julie Heldman, victims all, can attest that you should no more challenge Chris on clay than seek B'rer Rabbit in the Briarpatch.
Judy Alvarez, who was ranked No. 6 in the U.S. when she retired and became a pro five years ago, explains the situation. "Chris is already one of the best clay-court players in the world. She is an excellent retriever and shotmaker, and that is what it takes on clay. But on the faster surfaces, grass and hard courts, it is a different, more aggressive game. You must have a powerful serve and be able to rush the net instead of standing back on the baseline. If she wants to stay on clay that is her business, but if she wants to win the big tournaments like Forest Hills and Wimbledon or play on the pro tour, she must develop a suitable game."
Chris would seem to agree, for next month she is starting to play regularly on fast surfaces. The Girls' 18s in Philadelphia, the Wightman Cup matches in Cleveland and the U.S. Open Championships at Forest Hills will require a strength and pace that has been demanded of her only occasionally in the past.
"It's going to be difficult for me, I know that," Chris says. "From now on about 75% of my matches will be on fast surfaces. If I find that I'm not doing well, I'll have to punish myself with more discipline."
More discipline? She already works out every day, five to six hours in the summer and as long as possible after school in the winter. An aunt, Ruth Evert in Columbus, Ga., recalls telephoning her Florida relatives one Christmas Day and finding that Chris was out on the tennis court practicing.
"I don't want to be an average teenager," she said one day recently in the family room of her home. There was a violent storm outside and rain smeared the windows, but Chris, her hair in pigtails, was dressed in one of her dozen tennis outfits in anticipation of clearing weather later in the afternoon. "If it weren't tennis it would be something else. So many kids today don't seem to have goals. You see them walking around the beach and they aren't really going anywhere. Having a date on Friday night is not the most important thing in the world to me. I don't have close friends at school. They just don't understand. I feel more comfortable around other tennis players."
Chris is not a dull girl. She has a lively personality and a mind to match. Her grades at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale last year averaged 90, even though tennis tournaments caused her to miss more than three weeks of school.
Her regimen began 10 years ago at the urging of her father, Jimmy, a tennis pro from whom she inherited her athletic ability and a slightly pigeon-toed walk. The senior Evert won the national indoor junior title in 1940 by defeating Vic Seixas and later captained the tennis team at Notre Dame. He has two brothers who are also tennis players; Jerry, the pro at a club in Houston, and Chuck, a former pro who now takes time from a successful Columbus, Ga. law practice to compete in senior men's events. Jimmy oversees 20 courts at Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale, the largest tennis complex in Florida. His two star pupils are Chris and her 13-year-old sister Jeanne, who is already ranked third nationally in 14-and-under play.