How a teenage Chris Evert was protected by Billie Jean King while the rest of the tour felt 'threatened' by the American superstar

Chris Evert Billie Jean king
Billie Jean King was Chris Evert's pillar of support once

Chris Evert is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, with 18 Grand Slam titles and many other achievements. She is a former World No. 1, known for her calm and steely demeanor on the court, which earned her the nickname 'Ice Maiden.'

However, Evert faced her fair share of challenges too. When she rose to prominence in 1971 at just 17 years old, she quickly became a formidable opponent, giving many established pros on the WTA Tour a tough time. That, along with her "All-American" charm, which made her a sponsor favorite, caused some players to feel threatened by her.

"Because I was getting all the press. I was on the cover of Newsweek. You know, I was the 'It girl'," Evert said in a conversation with Debbie Millman in 2022. "Nobody had seen a young girl do so well until then. A young school girl, an all-American girl. I was the promoter's dream, I was the sponsor's dream."
"And the reason was that the other women professionals had done all the work to provide a professional tour for 200-300 women. They had provided a way to support the sport and the women. They knocked on sponsors' doors and got great sponsorships," she added.

Evert also mentioned that even though her situation wasn't ideal, she understood why most ladies on the tour were hostile towards her:

"So they did all the work and I and I kind of came right in there and started beating them. Suddenly, I was getting all the attention. So I 100% understand why they felt the way they did."

Billie Jean King came to Chris Evert's rescue and stood as her pillar of support

Billie Jean King (L) and Chris Evert
Billie Jean King (L) and Chris Evert

While Chris Evert struggled to be liked by her colleagues, there was one person who, by the 18-time Grand Slam champion's own admission, wasn't threatened by her and came to her rescue: WTA founder Billie Jean King.

In her conversation with Debbie Millman, Evert shared how King held a meeting with other players, convincing them not to turn their backs on her. King made them understand the value the teenager brought to the table, including increased sponsorship, more publicity, and additional revenue.

"There were some of them that were nice by the way. I wasn't there but supposedly, Billie Jean King had a meeting with the other players. She said, 'Listen, Chrissie is putting money in our pockets. She is bringing more people to the table, to the matches, she is bringing more sponsorship, more money, more publicity, more TV, and this is very important for the growth of the game of women's tennis. You are lucky that she's there,'" Evert said.

King's interference seemed to work perfectly, as Evert soon noticed that others' "philosophy" began changing.

"I think that kind of changed their philosophy a little bit. King was the one person that wasn't threatened by me," the 69-year-old said.

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Edited by Pritha Ghosh
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