"Yes. Now I really love the image that a woman athlete has. Why, I've been falling down and sweating for a couple years now." And she laughs, her eyes getting lost, mere slits in a pretty face that always swells with rosiness in either humor or happiness.
Jimmy Evert has taught all his five children to play his game. There are two sons: Drew, 27, now the teaching pro at the resort on Amelia Island, Fla. that Chrissie and John represent as touring pros, and John, 20, who plays on the tennis team at Vanderbilt. Jeanne, 23, the middle daughter, is a former national 12-and 14-and-under champion who was good enough to be a fringe player on the pro tour between 1973 and 1978. Clare, 13, is one of the best players in the country for her age. She also happens to be a bosom buddy of Chris' young rival, Andrea Jaeger. When Chris watches her little sister practice, Clare always wants to volley. "Come on, Daddy," she screams. "Just because I'm 13 and I can do it, and she still can't do it at 26!"
Jimmy had all the shots himself, too. He was an agile player, a Bobby Riggs type, good enough to reach the final 16 at Forest Hills in 1942; Ted Schroeder, the eventual champion, beat him in four long sets. Jimmy is a Notre Dame man, and after the war he came down to Fort Lauderdale and became pro at Holiday Park, the municipally owned tennis center. Fort Lauderdale was a jerkwater resort then, with maybe 30,000 residents and scads of beer-swilling college kids who descended on the beaches every spring. According to the latest census, Lauderdale has become the center of a metropolitan area of more than a million people, but Jimmy is still teaching at Holiday Park, still going home for lunch to the same house in which Chrissie grew up.
He never pushed his kids in practice. He didn't replay Schroeder through them. Indeed, had he been that way, "I would've rebelled," Chris says. Remember, she was dubious about this whole business of distaff perspiration to start with. "But I always did have a great sense of competition," she says, and she discovered that doing well on the courts meant glamour in the form of tournaments, travel, hotels and other tourist exotica.
Chris' life away from the courts was kept in balance by her mother, Colette, who remained more interested in whether her daughter's room was neat than in what trophies might adorn it. Colette traveled with Chrissie during her daughter's first few years as a pro. A gracious, open woman, she was, in many respects, accepted by the other players before the reserved Chris was.
But Chris was perfectly happy. "I'm just not a person to take risks. Never have been," she says. "I look back and see that I was too cautious in so many things I did in my life." She was an ideal daughter, never mischievous and, naturally, an A student at Aquinas. She would come home from some big-deal tournament and go out on a prom date. She shared a bedroom with Jeanne, and the two sisters would speak their own brand of pig Latin, inserting the letters "IV" before vowels. It was divandy, and it would go on like this forever, until Chris met a sun-kissed Prince Charming, which she surely would. Indeed, at 17 she was much more ready to fall madly in love with a nice 19-year-old Midwestern boy from a good Catholic family than to hang around locker rooms and hotel lobbies with career women 10 years her senior.
Chrissie met Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1972. She was already the baby doll of tennis, and although he was still largely unknown, they instantly discovered how similar their backgrounds and needs were. While their respective mothers went berserk back in their hotel rooms, Chrissie and Jimbo stayed up till four that first night, walking the London streets, baring their souls to each other. Whatever else has happened to them since, that moment still survives in some measure. "First love..." she says, trailing off, smiling, nothing more.
The romance was as idyllic and rocky as any first love, magnified all the more because it was played out in the public eye. They both won Wimbledon in the summer of '74 and would marry in the fall. It would have been so easy had Chrissie simply cooled to Jimbo. But it was much more complicated than that. For the first time, something in her life didn't groove. "I started to have doubts about a permanent commitment," she says, "but I never had any doubts about Jimmy." Their relationship began developing strains soon after Wimbledon, and in October the wedding was called off.
Says Billie Jean King, "The way Chris loved Jimmy Connors tells you more about her than a lot of things. There's all that American Pie stuff you hear. And it is very important for her to live up to everyone's expectations. So a lot of people couldn't understand how she could love a guy like Jimmy. But he's a perfectionist, and that's why she adored him. She admires that in people. That's Chris, above all else."