Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Chris Evert Was Hard to Beat on Clay

Posted on May 30, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Chris Evert won a record seven French Open Women's Singles titles. The first two came back-to-back in 1974 and 1975.

Chris Evert won a record seven French Open Women’s Singles titles. The first two came back-to-back in 1974 and 1975.

With Serena Williams not competing in the 2017 French Open due to her pregnancy, the women’s field is wide open and includes only two past champions (2009 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova and defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza). It is a far cry from the 1970s and 1980s when every year you knew there was one female player who would be pushing for the title.

With the possible exception of Rafael Nadal, who is aiming for his record 10th French Open title, no tennis player, man or woman, in the modern era of tennis has been more unbeatable on clay than Chris Evert.

Between August 1973 and May 1979, Evert won an amazing 125 consecutive matches on clay while losing only seven total sets.  After losing a third set tiebreaker to Tracy Austin in the semifinals of the 1979 Italian Open, she rebounded to win her next 72 matches on the surface.

She won seven French Open Championships and three of her six U.S. Open titles came while the tournament was played on clay.

Even though Evert was particularly tough to beat on clay, it wasn’t like she didn’t also display dominance on other surfaces.

Easily the most consistent player in women’s tennis history, Evert won at least one grand slam title in 13 consecutive years. She reached at least the semifinals in each of her first 34 grand slam appearances and 52 times out of 56 total appearances in the four biggest tournaments in tennis.

While her total of 18 total grand slam singles titles is tied for fifth in women’s tennis history, it is likely she would have won considerable more titles had she participated in all four majors every year during her career.

Instead, Evert participated in the Australian Open only six times (winning twice).  After winning the French Open in 1974 and 1975, she skipped the tournament for three years before returning to win the title five more times between 1979 and 1986.

Her overall career singles record of 1,309-146 (.900) ranks as the best of any player in professional tennis history.

Others may have done more to champion the cause of equality for women’s tennis, but there is no question that women’s tennis would not have the broad appeal it enjoys today without Evert.

She burst onto the scene as a 16-year old in 1971, making the semifinals of the U.S. Open in her first grand slam tournament.

With a pretty smile and wicked backhand, Evert opened the game of women’s tennis to a new generation of fans.

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were fierce rivals in the 1970s and 1980s. They each won 18 grand slam titles.

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were fierce rivals in the 1970s and 1980s. They each won 18 grand slam titles.

Tennis in the mid-1970s enjoyed a revival across America as teenage girls flocked to courts across the country because they wanted to learn to play like Chris Evert.  Teenage boys naturally followed because they wanted to be where the girls were.

Her impact on the tennis world was soon obvious as teenage girls including Andrea Jaeger, Tracy Austin and Mary Joe Fernandez began popping up on the professional tour.

That Evert was able to maintain her great success for such a long period of time is especially remarkable considering that she grew up right in front of her adoring public.

Her engagement to men’s tennis star Jimmy Connors in 1974 made national headlines, as did their subsequent breakup.

In 1976 Sports Illustrated named the 22-year old Evert as their “Sportswoman of the Year.”

After being romantically linked to a number of high-profile men, in 1979 Evert married British tennis player John Lloyd.

Throughout the 1980s, Evert-Lloyd continued to rank among the top players in women’s tennis.  Though Martina Navratilova had eclipsed Evert-Lloyd as the top player in the game, she ranked among the top three players in women’s tennis every year through 1988.

After divorcing John Lloyd in 1987, Evert married two-time Olympic downhill skier Andy Mill in 1988.

In 1989, she retired from the game with 157 career singles titles.

For most of the next two decades, Evert would appear occasionally as a commentator for one of the grand slam championships, but spent most of her time raising her three sons.

In 2006 Evert and Mills divorced and less than two years later she married popular professional golfer Greg Norman, who she divorced in 2009.  Evert is now a regular tennis commentator for ESPN’s grand slam coverage.

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