No. 50: Chris Evert
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

"She was an assassin that dressed just nice and said the right things, and meanwhile just cut you to shreds," says John McEnroe on ESPN's SportsCentury show on Chris Evert, who was rated No. 50 among North American athletes of the 20th century.


Sept. 4, 1971 -- Evert was "an assassin" even as a 16-year-old. In the first significant match of her storybook career, down triple-match point at the U.S. Open, she showed the cold-bloodedness needed to respond to the challenge.

Mary Ann Eisel led 6-4, 6-5 and was serving at 40-0 love in the second round at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. On grass, no less, where the server has an even bigger advantage.

Evert coolly answered Eisel's best flat first serve with a backhand winner down the line. Then she crushed another service-return winner, this one a forehand. Eisel, feeling the pressure, double faulted. Deuce.

After Eisel gained another match point, Evert saved it by powering a service return at Eisel's feet. Eisel lost a fifth match point when she drove a backhand long from the baseline. On a sixth match point, Eisel hit a nervous forehand volley wide.

When Evert finally reached advantage, she won the game with a deep forehand cross-court passing shot that shattered the tension in the stadium, the crowd erupting in applause for its newest heroine.

Her confidence growing, Evert won the best-of-nine tiebreaker 5-1 and then routed Eisel 6-1 in the third set. The assassin had her first major victim at a major tournament.

Throughout her career, Evert was deadly at the U.S. Open. She reached the semifinals in 17 of her 19 appearances and won 101 matches, more than any other player, female or male.

From 1972 to her retirement in 1989, Evert never ranked lower than fourth in the world. From 1975 to 1986, she was ranked either first or second at the end of the year.

Evert's record 125-match winning streak on clay lasted almost six years. It began in August 1973 and ended in May 1979 when she lost to Tracy Austin, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 in the semifinals of the Italian Open.

In the midst of this run, Evert was named Sportswoman of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1976 when she won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Her 18 Grand Slam singles titles tie her for fourth with Martina Navratilova, behind only Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (21) and Helen Wills Moody (19).

Her record in the Slams: 101-12 at the U.S. Open (six titles), 96-15 at Wimbledon (three titles), 72-6 at the French Open (record seven titles) and 30-4 at the Australian Open (two titles). Overall, 299-37. In finals, 18-16.

Evert won her 157 titles in 289 events. When Navratilova broke her mark, it came in her 343rd tournament.

By reaching 72 other finals and 44 semifinals, Evert made the semis in an astounding 90 percent of the tournaments she competed in (273 of 303).

In April 1985, she was named the Greatest Woman Athlete of the Last 25 Years by the Women's Sports Foundation.

She married two-time downhill Olympic skier Andy Mill on July 30, 1988. The couple has three sons.

On November 11, 1989, two months after her retirement, she was the first female sports celebrity to host "Saturday Night Live."

While Evert's two-handed backhand spawned a generation of young girls who copied the shot, her father, teaching pro Jimmy Evert, says he didn't teach her the stroke. "She started that way because she was too small and weak to swing the backhand with one hand," he says. "I hoped she'd change. But how can I argue with success?"