Chris Evert’s journey to the top began at Holiday Park, a public tennis facility located in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Her father Jimmy, an excellent player in his day, was the instructor there, teaching Chris, her siblings, and many others with exceptional discipline.

Now, on this October day in 1989, nearly 7,500 miles from Ft. Lauderdale, the 34-year-old Evert entered a court in Tokyo to compete for the last time, in this case, for a Fed Cup match versus Spain.

Eager as Jimmy Evert was to see his oldest daughter excel, no doubt even he couldn’t have imagined how successful she would be. The numbers were staggering: 157 singles titles, including 18 majors and a mind-boggling 1309-146 match record – a 90 percent win rate that remains the highest in tennis history. But perhaps Evert’s most notable achievement was that for 13 straight years, from 1974-’86, she won at least one singles major. That too remains unsurpassed.

Evert had announced her retirement in a Sports Illustrated cover story that appeared on the eve of the 1989 US Open. Wrote Evert, “I have wondered since I was 25: How will I know when to retire? I thought nobody would tell me; I’d just feel it. I do, and I’m glad. It’s tough for some other people around me to accept my decision, because they aren’t prepared. Especially my dad, who has been my coach and my inspiration over all these years. He has always encouraged me to play more than anyone. Sometimes I’ve felt like asking him, ‘Dad, what’s the deal? Do you want me to play till I’m 50?’ This summer even he recognized the signs, and now it seems OK with him for me to stop. I will remember many things about my career, the most important being my parents and their support.”


Evert at the 1989 US Open, her last Grand Slam tournament. “Mentally, playing so many matches in my career has finally caught up to me,” said Evert.

Evert at the 1989 US Open, her last Grand Slam tournament. “Mentally, playing so many matches in my career has finally caught up to me,” said Evert.

Evert’s US Open was both successful and emotional. In the round of 16, Evert played one of the finest matches of her career to beat rising teen Monica Seles, 6-0, 6-2. As Evert prepared to play Zina Garrison in the quarters, hopes were high that Evert would win that match and go on to play her greatest rival, Martina Navratilova. But Garrison beat Evert, 7-6 (1), 6-2. “Mentally, playing so many matches in my career has finally caught up to me,” said Evert.

There remained one last commitment. Evert had long been a Fed Cup stalwart, a vital member of seven championship teams prior to heading to Japan. In Tokyo, she was once again brilliant, easily winning each of her first four matches – not once even dropping four games in a single set. With the U.S. team having reached the finals, Evert would play the opening singles match (the format then consisted of two singles, followed by doubles).

Her opponent was Conchita Martinez, a promising Spanish teenager who’d eventually join Evert in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Fitting indeed that Martinez was born in 1972, one year after Evert had made an incredibly successful debut on the pro circuit – most notably when, at 16, she advanced to the semifinals of the first major she ever played, the 1971 US Open.

Evert woke up that final Monday in Tokyo at 5:30 a.m. “I start to get uptight,” Evert wrote in a diary she kept that week for World Tennis Magazine, “but I finally convince myself not to worry, enjoy the competition, and work hard for one more match.”

With trademark precision and poise, Evert handily defeated Martinez, 6-3, 6-2, giving the U.S. team a 1-0 lead. Navratilova next beat Arantxa Sanchez Vicario to clinch the American team’s victory.

“I’m having a hard time dealing with the finality of it all and still find myself questioning my decision to retire,” read Evert’s final diary entry.  “When I think of how well I played this week and the adrenaline flowing and the highs of winning, it’s hard to think of retiring. But then I force myself to remember the hard work, intense concentration, sore body, total commitment and disheartening losses. Retirement is all at once very calming.”