Happy 61st birthday to the only tennis player in history—male or female–to reach 34 career Grand Slam singles finals.
Christine Marie Evert was born as the second of five children born into a tennis family in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on this date in 1954. Her father, Jimmy Evert, was a professional tennis coach who had played collegiately at Notre Dame and won the men’s singles title at the 1947 Canadian Championships. Each of her four siblings won a state championship and was an age-group national finalist. Chris began playing tennis at five, getting her first lesson from her father at Holiday Park Tennis Center, where Jimmy Evert taught ten hours a day, seven days a week for 49 years. She started winning Florida tournaments when she was eleven. By 14, she was the No. 1 ranked Under-14 girl in the United States and played in her first senior tournament—reaching the semifinals, a mark that stood for 21 years until Jennifer Capriati bettered it in 1990 as a 13-year-old. In 1970, Evert won the national Sixteen-and-Under championship before defeating Margaret Court–the reigning U.S. Open champ and World No. 1—in a clay court tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina.
16-year-old Chris Evert made her Grand Slam debut at the 1971 U.S. Open, losing in the semifinal to eventual champion Billie Jean King. She turned pro the following year, travelling to tournaments around the world while still living in her parent’s house in Fort Lauderdale. In 1974, Evert won ten tournaments, including the French Open and Wimbledon—her first two Grand Slam titles, while winning a then-record 55 straight matches and vaulting to No. 1 in the world rankings, a spot she would hold for five straight years. Evert was raised on the clay courts of Holiday Park, where she learned to perfect her footwork, groundstrokes and patience. She put that experience to use on the clay courts of Roland Garros, where she won a record seven French Open titles. Evert won six U.S. Opens, two Australian Opens and three Wimbledon titles.
Arnie had Jack. Ali had Frazier. Chris Evert had Martina Navratilova, and the adversaries—who are close friends today—dominated women’s tennis in the 1970’s and 1980’s. They faced each other in a finals for the first time in Akron, Ohio, in 1973. Evert won before taking 20 of their next 24 finals matches. Navratilova won 13 straight finals between 1982 and 1984 and 25 of their last 32 finals show-downs, holding an overall 43-37 career advantage while matching Evert’s 18 career Grand Slam singles titles. In the 12 years from the introduction of the WTA rankings in November 1975 till August 1987, one of the two held the top spot in all but 23 weeks. In all, they played 80 matches, including 61 tournament finals. Not only was their rivalry one of the greatest in Women’s tennis, it was one of the best in sports history.
Chris Evert was World No. 1 for 260 weeks during her 17 year career, third all-time behind Steffi Graf [Daily Dose, October 2] and Navratilova. She reached the semifinals or better [in singles] of 52 of the 56 Grand Slams she played, is the first player to win 1,000 career singles matches and her .900 winning percentage [1,309-146] is the best—male or female—in tennis history. From 1974 to 1983, Evert won at least one Grand Slam tournament, an incredible run of consistency and excellence. “Chrissie” popularized the two-handed backhand and built her game around superb baseline groundstrokes, mental toughness and composure, leading to her “Ice Princess” and “Ice Maiden” nicknames. Chris Evert retired from competitive tennis in 1989 with 154 singles titles—a record, male or female, at that time. Evert was voted AP Female Athlete of the Year four times and, in 1976, was named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportswoman of the Year.” In 1995, Chris Evert became the fourth player ever elected unanimously into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
On this date in 1972,–her eighteenth birthday–Chris Evert turned pro.