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One can speculate that if Evert were not around. King still might be. Chris never beat Billie Jean on grass in three meetings, but she came awfully close the last time ( Wimbledon, 1975). And B.J. never took Chris on clay; the only time they even split sets on the slow surface was in their very first match.
While Evert's current rival, the dazzling Goolagong, surely is playing the finest tennis of her life, their 1976 matches show Chris ahead four to two, including her Wimbledon victory. She has beaten Evonne nine of the last 11 times they have met, outside WTT.
Evert's match temperament, her attitude about the game, is something special. Tinling recalls a breakfast conversation with Chris before a match with Martina Navratilova. "Chris said she hoped they would have a good match," he remembers. "I have never heard a champion say anything of the sort. Champions always want to win love and love, win easy, dominate and then get off. This girl said she felt so much better after a good match. She is extraordinary."
While the Slims tour is full of future stars—a Navratilova and Barker here, a Dianne Fromholtz and Terry Holladay there—no one is likely to see the precision, efficiency, concentration and spectacular winning streaks of an Evert again soon. "Maybe ne-vair another Kwiss-see," says Francoise Durr.
That would seem to take care of the tennis; the romance is hardly so stable. If it is true that Evert came into Jimmy Connors' life at a difficult time for him, he also provided a secure shoulder for her when it was most needed. At 18 Chris went from total dependence upon her family to considerable reliance on Jimmy. When the two called off their engagement, Chris found herself completely on her own for the first time. It must have been quite a shock.
The engagement had been broken for two months when Evert came off the court in Sarasota one day to be met by a TV reporter seeking her reaction to the news that Connors' new partner was Mean Mary Jean of Dodge car fame. Though she was taken aback, Evert handled the interview with aplomb. But, says Kristien Shaw, she later threw a sobbing, moaning tantrum.
At Wimbledon in 1975, after Connors kept showing up with actress Susan George—the women players called this "Jimmy's alltime cheap shot"—Chris remained in seclusion, never gracing the players' upstairs tearoom where the tournament In crowd gathers. She was deeply hurt on that occasion. But at this year's Wimbledon, while Connors frolicked with yet another glamorous companion, Marjorie Wallace, Evert went her own way socially—dating, partying and showing up often at the tearoom. "Chris made up her mind to hold her head up, go anywhere she pleased and have fun this time," says Ziegenfuss. And, by the way, to win the tournament.
"When I had marriage to look forward to, I played looser; tennis wasn't everything," Chris says. "Jimmy was always security. Then when he was gone, there was limbo. That period is over now."
Since the estrangement from Connors, Evert has glided through much more than the usual growing-up procedures, especially in the last year. She has become independent, she makes her own decisions, she lives her own life. She has left the pain of her insecurities behind and matured into a warm, open human being—"blossomed like a flower." in Jeanie Brinkman's words.
Evert is one of the leading joke tellers on the circuit and one of its most popular members. "Is there anybody who doesn't like Chris?" Heldman says. "It's impossible not to like Chris."