It is important to keep in mind that Chris Evert has never suffered an image she wasn't in a way responsible for. Julie Heldman, for years a high-ranked player, says that as a young girl Evert seemed to have an inability to talk to people, a basic shyness and lack of confidence. But at the same time there was an unusual awareness of self that almost defied description. "She was not so much dull and boring as withdrawn," says Heldman. "Not so much withdrawn as separate. As a teen-age athlete, it is very difficult to achieve a balance between what I call sexual humanism and athleticism. The way she developed on the court was to consider all possibilities, wipe out the risks and only play the sure things. This philosophy dominated her life. Coming from the most conservative of families, Chris never gambled; she never took chances."
This attitude extended to the delicate process of making friends—always a two-way street. Except for Kristien Shaw, a few strays like Floridian Wendy Overton, and her girlhood pal Laurie Fleming, Evert refused to make headway in that direction. Tennis-dress designer Ted Tinling has compared the Slims circuit to "a pride of lions, where if one leaves to relieve oneself in the bushes, one has to be sniffed out, cleansed and approved all over again." It took Evert a long time to be accepted.
Still, independence was not without rewards. Women on the tour speak of several ways to win: by aggression, intimidation, quiet consistency, even some sneaky tricks here and there. Evert's way was to become, in the words of another prominent tour player, Lesley Hunt, "a myth. Chris fascinated me because she stayed unknown. She never cried, never cracked. Whether she was or not, she made everybody think she was so cold. That in itself was intimidating. It was like playing against a blank wall. In our matches I used to watch for the slightest sign of emotion as a hint of nervousness. Even a raised eyebrow would be a terrific breakthrough."
Fellow pro Rosie Casals says, "It was drummed into Chris how to react on match point. And that was, naturally, not to react at all. It carried over. For a long time she lived her life as one long match point."
In the context of this heavy matter, Evert was asked what there was about tennis that held her so. What was the attraction? The art, the grace, the flow of the game, the concentration? Just what? She did not hesitate. "The winning," Chris Evert said. "I always liked the winning."
Colette Evert, the mother, says she is tired of the press describing her house as a "modest bungalow." She reasons that any place with five bedrooms deserves more credit. The Evert residence in Fort Lauderdale is just a few blocks from Holiday Park. Jimmy Evert, the father, has run the pro shop and offered tennis lessons at Holiday Park for 28 years. It is the only job he has ever had. Last year Chris finally persuaded her father to raise his fee for hourly lessons. The price skyrocketed from $6 to $10.
The Evert neighborhood is populated mostly with older folks, some of whom have no idea that such a famous person exists within range of a lawn hose. Recently, a lost stranger looking for her house had to stop at three different front porches before finding anyone who had heard of Chris Evert.
The family has contemplated moving several times. Colette still slips away to price the homes in the more exclusive Coral Ridge section of town. But, having weighed the offers of resort hotels and spectacular condominiums and whole new countries presumably formed for their convenience, the Everts decided to stay put and add on to the old house—twice. Now Drew, the oldest of the children, has a bedroom back off the kitchen when he comes home from his studies at Auburn. Chris and her tournament-playing sister Jeanne, 18, share their own expansive suite upstairs.
How tough is it being Chris Evert's brothers and sisters? When Drew lost in the NCAA tournament last fall, somebody said he should give up tennis for the used-car business; he could sell all the cars his sister had won. A secure, normally subdued type, Drew exploded. He responded that he could beat his sisters anytime. "Not on clay," Chris said with a laugh.
John, 14, and even Clare, nine, undergo other forms of harassment from time to time. At John's high school matches, spectators sometimes shout. "Hey Chrissie, hit some double faults. Chrissie," and jealous playmates have been known to insinuate that little Clare "acts big" just because her sister makes all the magazine covers. However, none of them has to endure quite the same identity crises that Jeanne does.