Poise. Consistency. Focus. Those are three words associated with Chris Evert, who today turns 67. For more than 50 years, Evert has been a tennis fixture -- prodigy, champion, mentor, analyst.

Yet the stability implied Evert’s presence belies her stature as a tennis revolutionary, a player who turned the sport upside-down. Others did so loudly. Evert chose another path. As the Evert story reveals, that choice yieled both gain and pain.

Evert in large part created the way tennis is currently played—forceful groundstrokes, applying pressure with one deep drive after another. Prior to Evert’s arrival on the pro tour in 1971, just about every tennis player had a one-handed backhand and scarcely inflicted much damage from the baseline other than with depth and variety. The prevailing style was serve-and-volley.

Evert’s two-hander, along with those hit by Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg, represented a massive upgrade in power and proficiency that turned back the tables on net rushers. Rapidly, the template was set, millions more following in Evert’s wake to create a brand of increasingly forceful groundstrokes hit by such champions as Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Mary Pierce, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, and Naomi Osaka. For a contemporary male version of Evert, look no further than the disciplined footwork, balance, sustained depth and pinpoint precision generated by Novak Djokovic.

Off the court, Evert was also an innovator. Led by the “Original Nine,” the women’s pro tour had just begun when Evert played her first major, the 1971 US Open. One of those nine, Billie Jean King, instantly recognized that Evert had the potential to become a superstar—and in the process, greatly enrich the entire sport. But Evert’s father, Jimmy, supervised his daughter deliberately about how to maximize her commercial possibilities. Rather than swiftly sign one endorsement deal after another, Evert, later managed by sports marketing firm IMG, methodically built a select portfolio of corporate partnerships. The tennis deals were obvious: Wilson racquets and Converse shoes. The others revealed both class and breadth, including Rolex, Lipton, and Ellesse. A Wilson executive once told me that Evert’s credibility was so high that the company knew it could rely on her presence not just to boost tennis racquet sales, but the full range of sports equipment products.


But most of all, it was the tennis itself that engaged Evert—specifically, the opportunity to compete. Though she confessed to moments of expressive anger in practice sessions, in match play Evert was arguably the most unflappable champion in tennis history. Her career was one of epic excellence, Evert competing successfully versus Hall of Famers from the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s -- Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Nancy Richey, Evonne Goolagong, Virginia Wade, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Hana Mandlikova, Stefanie Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Monica Seles.

To play that well for so long versus so many great players of various styles reveals Evert’s willingness to grow. To be sure, she was instantly proficient, beating Court at the age of 15, reaching the semis of the US Open a year later.

But as the years went on, Evert subtly but significantly improved. This became most notable in the ‘80s. Though over the course of her career, Evert held the number one spot for 260 weeks, she too would concur that she played even better when ranked second in the world behind her greatest rival, Navratilova. Back in the ‘70s, Evert’s high standard had compelled Navratilova to improve her game and, by the early ‘80s, her entire approach to fitness, training, and even technique. As Navratilova upped the ante, Evert too began to make notable upgrades. She ditched her wood racquet in favor of a graphite frame, started to spend considerable hours in the gym, and also looked to approach the net a bit more than she previously had.

After losing 15 of 16 matches to Navratilova in 1983, ’84 and early ’85, Evert won what’s likely the finest of all 80 Navratilova-Evert battles. On June 8, 1985, in the final of Roland Garros, Evert played a sparkling brand of clay court tennis—far more aggressive than the teenager who’d first won that title eleven years prior—to beat Navratilova, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-5.


Though she confessed to moments of expressive anger in practice sessions, in match play Evert was arguably the most unflappable champion in tennis history.

The Evert resume is a feast for data junkies. Just three of the major highlights:

  • She won at least one Grand Slam singles title for a record 13 straight years (1974-’86)
  • Of the 56 Grand Slam events Evert played, she reached the semis 52 times
  • Match record of 1309-146 – a 90 percent win record (highest for any man or woman in tennis history)

Long after her playing career was over, Evert also publicly addressed her personal struggles. Soon after the end of her third marriage, Evert spoke quite candidly in a 2011 Elle Magazine story about everything from the cost of constantly keeping her cool to the ways she’d mismanaged her marriages. "Being famous before you've formed your personality, before you have that self-esteem, is dangerous,” she said. “Things obviously built up inside me. I competed and handled pressure well—that was my strength. But I suppressed things off the court."

It was a powerful moment for an iconic public figure, a sign that the woman dubbed “The Ice Maiden” knew that if she didn’t melt, she would only harden. Once seemingly invulnerable, Evert has come to recognize the value of vulnerability and might well nod affirmatively if you called her a 67-year-old work-in-progress. As the song lyrics go, “I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.”