If it seems an eternity since she rode in National Velvet across the silver screen and sang On the Good Ship Lollipop over the airwaves, it is probably because, like few little girls before her, Christine Marie Evert grew up with most of America watching.
In truth, she has been on the tennis scene for just four years and she had never won the championship of her own country—never even made the finals of the U.S. Open, mind you. Nonetheless, what Evert always has had is timing. For better or worse, she was able to tuck her hair ribbons and lipsticks and double-fisted backhands into the tennis boom and emerge like the glittering prize in a Cracker Jack box.
She was a flat-out, full-blown international celeb at 16. Her game was dissected by scientists, her clothes and hair subject to the catty chatter of the country club, her romance on all the talk shows. She was dragged through the publicity mills without surcease.
Though such notoriety has damaged other damsels of similar precocity, Chris Evert survived by closing herself off, withdrawing behind a poker face and turning into "the ice maiden."
By last week all that had changed. Away from parental embrace, more mature now, open, real—with her boyfriend, Jimmy Connors, back and doing neat things like kissing her in public—Evert won the one championship that had eluded her for a lifetime. She won Forest Hills. After which, she threw her racket in the air and did a little crying. Chris Evert is, after all, 20. Whew!
Evert's victory was not totally unexpected. When the West Side Tennis Club was converted from grass to clay composition, she was automatically conceded the title. Over the past two years she had won 78 straight matches in 16 tournaments on clay surfaces, losing only five sets. Moreover, in the week preceding the Open, Evert had ripped through a tournament in Rye, N.Y., defeating the estimable Virginia Wade in the final, 6-0, 6-1, while giving up only 15 points in the first 11 games. If that wasn't enough warning, when the real thing began, Evert bludgeoned her way through the first four rounds at Forest Hills, losing only eight games in eight sets as opponents moaned about her "clay invincibility."
After a while this kind of wailing got to Evert. "It's pleasant to read that I'm unbeatable on clay," she said, "for about 10 seconds. Then I realize that what it means is if I don't win I should be ashamed of myself. I won't be shocked if I lose. I can play badly."
Evert was asked to recall the last time she played badly on clay. She thought for a long time. "Gee, you ask tough questions," she said.
Because her game is based on consistency, patience and faultless ground strokes, Evert's talent is seldom given proper due. She is called dull, boring, slow. But what she is, above all, is an incredibly hard worker whose sense of anticipation is unmatched. As Patti Hogan says, "Chris runs to the ball just before you've figured where to hit it."
Billie Jean King speaks of Evert's "relentlessness"; Julie Heldman, of her "great hands. Chris gets back so early on preparation that even on a bad bounce her hands can handle it and pull off a winner."