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Walter Bingham
March 20, 1972
Everyone there was hoping for a showdown between those two cool kids, Evert and Goolagong, but a pair of old hands still carried the big guns
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March 20, 1972

Shoot-out At The T Bar M

Everyone there was hoping for a showdown between those two cool kids, Evert and Goolagong, but a pair of old hands still carried the big guns

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Here is a trivia question for the mid-1980s: Evonne Goolagong has beaten Chris Evert in the finals of Wimbledon and Forest Hills five times, right? And Chris has also beaten Evonne five times in the finals. Now the question is, when and where did these two champions first meet? Don't know? It was back in March of 1972, March 8, a Wednesday to be exact, at a place called the T Bar M Racquet Club in Dallas. No, no, they didn't play each other. Billie Jean King prevented that by beating Chris in the quarterfinals. But Chris and Evonne were introduced during the tournament. They had lunch and shared a few giggles, all the time sizing each other up like a pair of strange heavyweights. They knew they would be seeing a lot of one another during the next 10 years or so.

Final question: Remember who won that tournament? No, not Evonne. In the semifinals she, too, was beaten by Billie Jean who, though tired, was playing as though her life depended on it. But Billie Jean did not win, either, because waiting for her in the final was Nancy Richey Gunter, cool and rested, and she gunned down Billie Jean 7-6, 6-1. That earned her $11,000, which may not seem like much now, but at the time was the highest purse in women's tennis.

It had been the hope of those who staged the Maureen Connolly Brinker tournament last week that Evonne and Chris, the game's two most exciting players, would take the court together for the first time, and with the help of a logical draw it might have happened. Anyone with common sense would have seeded Evonne first, a tribute to her Wimbledon victory, Billie Jean second and Chris third, thereby creating a possible Goolagong-Evert semifinal. But tennis is not noted for its common sense and after some infighting among various factions, there emerged a draw that somehow stuck the three of them in the same bracket, where they could kill off each other while allowing someone, Nancy Gunter as it developed, a peaceful journey to the finals. Now Evonne is off to South Africa, Chris is back at school in Fort Lauderdale and the world must wait for their first showdown.

It is only natural that people were hoping the two girls would play because there is such similarity between them, or at least in their situations. Both became tennis celebrities last year, Evonne by beating Margaret Court at the age of 19 to become the Wimbledon champion, Chris by moving to the semifinals at Forest Hills at 16 before losing to Billie Jean. Now everyone wants them to play in tournaments, to interview them, photograph them, have them sign autographs or merely gawk at them. In Dallas last week neither girl could stroll through the plush clubhouse without at least a dozen stops for requests of this kind.

Fortunately, both girls have men to protect them from too much attention. In Evonne's case it is Vic Edwards, her coach and adopted father. Edwards, 62, is a tall, burly man with a thin white mustache. He can be cheerful, as he was in Dallas, chatting with club members and sipping a beer while Evonne was on the court practicing, but there is also an iciness about him which he uses to shield Evonne from too many well-wishers. Engage the young lady in conversation and suddenly Edwards is likely to appear, saying, "I think you've had your share."

The two are very close. Whenever Evonne finished a match last week, Edwards would bring her a cool drink and give her a kiss. When someone offered her a refill, she checked with Edwards for permission. Edwards had hoped Evonne would be ready to win Wimbledon by 1974 and while he is pleased it happened sooner, he says he worries whether she will be able to withstand the pressure of being the target for every other player. Fortunately Evonne is a relaxed, cheerful person—"a fun girl," Chris said last week. There are times when Edwards looks as if he is under pressure, but if Evonne feels it, she masks it with a merry smile.

Chris' coach is her father, Jimmy Evert, a leathery little teaching pro who, while slightly bewildered by his daughter's sudden fame, has a firm grip on the situation. He says that since Forest Hills everyone wants to watch Chris practice. There is such a demand for courts at his club in Fort Lauderdale, especially during the tourist season, that people must wait, and while they wait what better way to spend the time than to lean against the wire fence and watch the teen-age whiz? Now when Jimmy Evert wants to criticize his daughter for some mistake, he must wait and do it privately because Chris naturally feels uncomfortable taking criticism with such a gallery watching.

Yet Chris looks as if she too will be able to withstand the pressure simply because she seems determined not to let anything in the world get the better of her, pressure included. She has a good sense of humor—after her match with Billie Jean in Dallas she phoned her mother, told her she had just lost and began to describe how before Jimmy took over the phone. But on the court she is all business, no smiles, never. Her father says that not long ago he had to scold her for something she did, saying that if she was going to do that, fine, but no more tennis tournaments; moments later there was a hint of tears in her eyes, a reminder that this cool young killer has in fact just recently graduated from being a little girl.

For a while last week it seemed as if Chris and Evonne would not meet even socially. Evonne was the first to arrive, flying in from Sydney with Edwards four days before the tournament began, her first trip to the U.S. She submitted to a mass interview, complete with klieg lights and microphones around the neck. Asked if she had ever eaten Mexican food, she said no. The next day six Mexican restaurants called offering free meals. One afternoon she went to Neiman-Marcus where she thought about buying two Stetsons for her brothers and decided against it, but mostly she spent her time practicing at the club with one of the local pros—Edwards always has Evonne work out with men on the theory that there is less horsing around—and staying inside her motel room watching television.

Chris arrived Tuesday evening. She had spent the morning in school, among other things giving a 20-minute presentation on the poet Randall Jarrell, then had practiced with her father before the two of them were driven to Miami by Mrs. Evert for the flight to Dallas. When they landed, Evonne was on the court, very nearly losing to her first-round opponent, Wendy Gilchrist. Chris and her father were driven to their motel, Chris getting room 651 to Evonne's 551. The Everts quickly suited up and were taken to the club for another practice session, but by that time Evonne had pulled out her match and was on her way back to the motel to change into an evening gown and attend a little bash for the players at the home of John Murchison. Jimmy Evert declined, feeling Chris had done enough for one day.

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