Sunday, June 12, 2011
Talking tennis with Chris Evert
By Greg Garber
Tennis has always been in Chris Evert's DNA, but 11 years ago, she needed to step away.
"I was working for NBC at the time," she said last week from her rented house in Aspen, Colo., "but then it got a little complicated."
She had three young sons with husband Andy Mill and didn't want to be away from them.
"Quite frankly," she said, "I wanted to be a full-time mom."
But after a decade in the vortex of all that testosterone -- plus a ton of homework -- Evert's boys are teenagers. Alex (19) is in college and Nick (17) and Colton (15) are busy high school students. Now, Evert says, she is ready to jump back into television.
Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles from 1974-86, joins the ESPN2 broadcast team for the upcoming Wimbledon tournament. She'll be reunited with Dick Enberg, the longtime NBC announcer, and work with good friends Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez.
"I'm excited about this opportunity," said Evert. "It was always a time issue for me. Raising my kids was always the first priority -- it still is -- but I'm ready to get out there a little more and give my perspective.
"This isn't just a two-week thing. You've got to put in the work, do the research, follow the tournaments all year long."
Still, it's not like Evert hasn't been engaged in the game. She continues to contribute to Tennis Magazine and, with her brother John, oversees the tennis academy that bears her name in Boca Raton, Fla.
In a partnership with the USTA, the Evert Academy has produced some good young players. Evert proudly lists three -- Lauren Davis, Anna Tatishvili and Beatrice Capra -- who have all played in the main draws of recent Grand Slams. Tatishvili, from Georgia of the former Soviet Union, played Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli at this year's Roland Garros. Capra, then 18, was a wild card who advanced to the third round of last year's U.S. Open.
What is Evert looking forward to most at Wimbledon?
"The work of just telling what's going on in the matches -- that's my strength," she said. "I know when the momentum changes, when players start to get tight, what the big points are.
"The thing that irks me when I'm watching matches on TV is when somebody is talking about where they were born and what they did when they were young -- and a huge point slips away, and you'd never know it. I dealt with the pressure of the tour. I can relate to the top players."
Speaking of which, what does she make of the return of Serena and Venus Williams?
"Serena, to me, I have never seen a player come in and out of the sport so well," Evert said. "She comes in and wins a major, leaves with an injury, then comes back in and wins another major. It's been a year since she played, it would be a monumental win for her.
"I really can't imagine her winning it, but then again I can imagine her winning it. It's a lot to ask for with injury and that health scare. With the limited tournament warm-up and probably limited practice, it just shows her personality and how fearless she is."
Evert lists Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova among the favorites, but doesn't discount a run by Venus, either.
"They're, what, 30 years old now?" Evert said. "But because they didn't play junior tournaments so they weren't as burned out as some. With all the breaks they've taken, when they get back in their juices are flowing again. They become revitalized."
Evert, who is now 56, may have been talking about herself.
Thirty-seven years ago, she won her first Grand Slam singles title at the 1974 French Open. Her consistency was impressive; she never lost in the first or second round of a major. Evert's singles record of 1,309-146 works out to a 90 percent success rate.
Her off-the-court activity has been an undeniable part of her résumé, too. She was briefly engaged to Jimmy Connors and later married British player John Lloyd for eight years. She was married to Mill, a U.S. Olympic skier, for 18 years, and after marrying golfer Greg Norman in 2008, Evert divorced him 18 months later.
She lives with the three boys in Florida and Evert said that Mill has a house 15 minutes away to be close to them. Likewise, when they spend the summer in Colorado with Mill and his wife, Evert, staying in a rented home, sees them almost every day.
"It's a wonderful situation," Evert said. "The divorce is actually more functional than many marriages."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.