Continuing with our series on the greatest tennis players of all time, here’s No. 7 on our list.
No. 7 – Chris Evert
When Gilles Simon sparked off a controversy by showing his disapproval of equal pay-cheques for men and women at Wimbledon this year, there was a lot of hue and cry on the subject. Leaving prize money aside, if another inequality-based question on recognition of accomplishments is posed, it is indeed a sad fact that records in women’s tennis are a lot less appreciated than those in men’s tennis. And if there is one woman who I have to choose to prove this point, it is none other than Christine Marie Evert!
A couple of examples are in order here. The record of 23 consecutive ‘semi-finals or better’ appearances made by Roger Federer is considered to be one record which is forever going to stand the test of time; Chris Evert did the same thing for 34 straight Slams. Rafael Nadal‘s longest claycourt winning streak ended at 81 matches; Evert’s lasted for 125! By just drawing a comparison with two mind-boggling records held by Roger and Rafa, it is evident that Evert easily eclipses them both. Statistics like these can drive home how special Evert really was to youngsters who don’t look beyond the ‘Fedal’ days!
Chris Evert was a phenomenon not just for the records she was able to set. Her entry into the tennis scene was nothing short of theatrical, because her progress was just so rapid! From being a kid who was making giant strides in the junior circuit, she was suddenly on the Grand Slam stage at the tender age of 16 when she had not even become a ‘pro’. She made heads turn by reaching the semi-final in her Grand Slam debut at the U.S. Open of 1971, before losing to Billie Jean King, who was the most dominant force around at that time. There started the rise and rise of Evert, and in a glittering career spanning over 17 years, she had more than her share of wins at the biggest of stages: she won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, and ended runner-up in 16. If there is a statistic that better describes the consistency and longevity of her career than the record she holds for having played in the most number Grand Slam singles finals (34), it is this: she reached the ‘last-four’ stage in 52 of the 56 Slams she contested! No, that wasn’t a typo. I didn’t type a wrong digit. Her hunger for glory was just that amazing!
The strong baseline game that Evert put on display was a result of a devastating combination of the fiery double-handed backhand she possessed and an intelligent mind which was evident even to a television viewer, thanks to her clever display of court sense. Her ability to pass brilliantly off both the forehand and backhand wings made her indomitable on the claycourts, and her seven French Open titles speak volumes of the command she held from the baseline over her opponents. Evert carried the proverbial baton passed to her by the great Billie Jean King in the 70s before another pair of hands wished to grab it from her. Those pair of hands came along with a pair of bespectacled eyes and an iron-willed heart – Martina Navratilova was seemingly born to give Evert trouble. Theirs was the women’s equivalent of the Borg-McEnroe rivalry (which ran simultaneously), and the calm and collected Evert was obviously the Borg of this one. As if to let her know that she was beatable, that her game was vulnerable to a spotless serve and volley attack, the tennis gods had sent Martina Navratilova. In arguably the best rivalry in women’s tennis and for that matter, the sport itself, Navratilova tipped Evert by a narrow margin – she had 43 wins against Evert’s 37 in an 80-match rivalry. At the Slams, Evert often came up short, winning just 4 of the 10 Slam finals the duo clashed in. A familiar story this for the ‘Fedal’ people, eh?
Chris Evert was the force women’s tennis needed in those times for more reasons than her display of flawless tennis. In a period when Hollywood had a Meryl Streep, there just had to be a woman in sports to keep the paparazzi on their toes. The beautiful Evert, with her unmistakable grace and an eye for fashionable sports gear, was undoubtedly the media darling of her generation. Her on-and-off relationship with the angry-young Jimmy Connors never missed catching the headlines, and their coincidental triumphs in 1974 at Wimbledon even gave rise to the term ‘love match’. The boss of Calvin Klein, the brand she endorsed early in her career, named a race horse after her, and that pony became so successful that at one point it appeared in the ‘Did You Mean?’ box when one typed ‘Chris Evert’ on search engines. ‘Chris Evert’ is one lucky name, that’s for sure!
Today, if Chris Evert is not remembered as much as she deserves to for the staggering records she set in one of the most durable careers ever seen, it is because of the tremendous achievements of two other women who played in a period that had more tennis viewership and a higher penchant for statistics. As for who those two women are – we will see them later in this series. For now, let’s raise our glasses to Chris Evert for making it to the 7th spot in the list of greatest tennis players of all time – she certainly deserves it in the fullest.
And now, the customary video clip. Evert was often on the receiving end in her clashes with Navratilova on the lawns of Wimbledon, but in the 1980 semifinals, she turned things around to register one of her most hard-fought, and memorably dramatic, victories. Here are the highlights of that match:
These are the other players who have made it to the list so far:
No. 20 – Venus Williams; No. 19 – Justine Henin; No. 18 – Ken Rosewall; No. 17 – Andre Agassi; No. 16 – Pancho Gonzales; No. 15 – Monica Seles; No. 14 – John McEnroe; No. 13 – Ivan Lendl; No. 12 – Jimmy Connors; No. 11 – Margaret Court; No. 10 – Billie Jean King; No. 9 – Rafael Nadal; No. 8 – Serena Williams
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: