Then, after a better rally: “That’s a nice shot! Very solid!
And when the youngster plows a ball into the net: “You stopped moving your feet! You’re not intense! C’mon! Be intense!”
The baseball cap obscures the face, but there’s no mistaking the flawless form of the coach dispensing the tips as she sprints around the court against players 40 years younger — particularly when she drives that pinpoint, two-fisted backhand down the line.
It’s Chris Evert, who can be found most weekday mornings on the courts of Boca Raton’s Evert Academy, which she owns with her brother John, hitting with 14-, 15- and 16-year-old girls who dream of achieving what she did.
Twenty-two years after she played her last professional match and retreated from the spotlight to start a family, Evert, the fiercest competitor in tennis history, is again embracing the sport she once dominated. Her girlish charm has been tempered by the pain of a third divorce. And the three sons she considers her proudest achievement — Alex, 20; Nicky, 17; and Colton, 15 — will soon leave home to start their own lives.
So, like many women whose children no longer need them quite so much, Evert, 57, has returned to work — as a coach, mentor and commentator. This month, she expands her role as an analyst for ESPN at the Australian Open.
In a recent interview at the Evert Academy and her home nearby, Evert displayed no false modesty about her athletic achievements, much of which she attributes to being born with a rare ability to concentrate and compartmentalize. She also made no effort to gloss over the fact that her personal life remains a work in progress.
From the moment she burst onto the international stage by reaching the semifinals of the 1971 U.S. Open at 16, Evert hardly put a foot wrong on the tennis court. She won 125 consecutive matches on clay and at least one major title for 13 years in a row — records that stand today. She was as impeccable in her deportment as she was with strokes, ladylike in pursuit of victory, never one to pitch tantrums or berate officials.
A woman of average height and build, Evert possessed no particular world-beating shot. But she won 18 Grand Slam titles and compiled an unrivaled .899 winning percentage (1,309-146) through a ferocious hunger to be No. 1 and an unflinching mental resolve.
As John McEnroe once put it, “She was an assassin that dressed just nice and said the right things and meanwhile cut you to shreds.”
Off the court, she had a fairytale romance with fellow American champion Jimmy Connors, to whom she was briefly engaged when she was just 19. Five years later, she married the British player John Lloyd and, for a time, became known professionally as Chris Evert Lloyd; the couple divorced in 1987.