‘It is not about winning’

Chris Evert, who spent 260 weeks at the top of the women’s rankings, feels that women’s tennis has become more global with players emerging from every corner of the world. By G. Prasad.

Tennis great Chris Evert is at her charming, witty best as she speaks her mind. Among her assertions is, “it is the one that is between the ears” that separates the champions from the also-rans.

“Playing tennis is like life. It is not about winning always. You work hard and still can lose sometimes. But you have to pick yourself up and set new goals,” said Evert, the former World No. 1, who was in Singapore recently for the WTA kick-off event of the ‘Road to Singapore,’ a season-long campaign that will culminate in the year-ending championships in Singapore from October 17-26.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion was also candid in her admission that during her playing days she wasn’t the quickest, strongest or the tallest. “But I dreamt big and worked hard. I was determined and hungry to win matches,” said Evert, winner of 1309 career matches, which brought a loud applause from a gathering of students.

Terming tennis as the most respected and popular women’s sport, Evert said many great woman players have raised the bar over the years. “Martina (Navratilova) and Steffi (Graf) with their athleticism, Serena and Venus (Williams) through their power game, and Li Na, with her boldness, have taken women’s tennis to another level.”

Recalling her famous rivalry with Navratilova, Evert sprang a surprise by saying that Navratilova wasn’t her toughest opponent. “I had a big rivalry with Martina, but we ultimately ended up winning 18 Grand Slams each (only Graf has more Open Era Grand Slam titles with 22),” she said with a smile.

“Back then, during my playing days, I would probably practise two-three hours and that would be a long day. But today, the girls practise and do off-court workouts eight hours a day. I would even eat steak and baked potatoes before a match,” she said evoking laughter among the crowd.

Showering rich praise on the new Australian Open champion Li Na, Evert said the Chinese star was the most influential women’s tennis player in the last 10 years. “It is not only about winning Grand Slams, it is also about the influence you have in tennis.”

Evert, who spent 260 weeks at the top of the women’s rankings, feels that women’s tennis has become more global with players emerging from every corner of the world.

“Serena might have lost in Melbourne, but she still is the No. 1 player and a great ambassador of the game. She is 32. Li Na, who is on a high, will also be 32 soon. Then you have promising young girls such as Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens. Those in the mid-20s such as (Ana) Ivanovic and (Dominika) Cibulkova look determined. Players of three different age-groups are excelling, which makes it very interesting.”

Evert, who is also the WTA Championships ambassador, said the season-ending tournament ranked right on top, along with the Grand Slams, on the players’ minds. “Every single round in the WTA championships is like playing a Grand Slam final,” she said about the stiff competition in the tournament.

Singapore will be the first city in the Asia-Pacific region to host the WTA Championships in the 44-year history of the event and will remain host till 2018.

“I am excited about the fact that Singapore, a great place, will be hosting the WTA championships,” said Evert, who won the title on four occasions.