Tennis: Vital hunger absent in some stars in women's game, says legend Chris Evert

CHRIS EVERT
CHRIS EVERT

Tennis legend names Ivanovic, Stosur as examples of Major champions who fell away

Almost four decades on, Chris Evert still remembers clearly the inconsolable state she was in after losing her 1977 Wimbledon semi-final to eventual champion Virginia Wade.

For three days, the American - then the world No. 1 and defending champion - saw nothing outside the walls of her hotel room, nor did she change out of her bathrobe.

"I took that loss hard," she recalled to The Straits Times yesterday. "I hated to lose more than I love to win."

That defeat stung more than usual, but the deep desire to find her winning ways again meant that while Evert left SW19 having been conquered, she found triumph again at the year's next Grand Slam in New York - as well as 12 more Majors over the rest of her career.

That "hunger", said the 18-time Grand Slam champion, is absent in several of the elite players on the women's Tour today.

STELLAR QUALITY

If you're hungry and want it badly enough, you make it happen. You figure it out...
you come back with a vengeance.

CHRIS EVERT on what matters most

Said Evert, the official ambassador for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global: "There are players who have won Grand Slams (and done well at Majors) but haven't followed it up."

She made mention of Ana Ivanovic, who won the French Open in 2008, as well as Samantha Stosur, who defeated Serena Williams to win the 2011 US Open.

There was also mention of Eugenie Bouchard, who rose to stardom in a breakthrough season last year after making two Grand Slam semi-finals and a first final at Wimbledon. The Canadian rocketed to world No. 5 and also qualified for the prestigious year-end Finals but, having spent much of the 2015 season in the dreaded sophomore slump, is now languishing at No. 38.

"There's an adjustment when you have success. All of a sudden people want a piece of you... and you feel more pressure when you play. It's totally understandable to have a few hiccups," said Evert.

The flux among the elite women's players has also confounded her former arch-rival, fellow tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who said at a media conference on Monday: "I don't know why there is so much turnover. Players fluctuate so much more than in my time.

"Yes, there is much greater depth, no doubt. But (that) still doesn't explain the level of fluctuation."

For Evert, time spent fulfilling obligations off the court in the aftermath of success may have something to do with it.

She said: "It's kind of a double-edged sword, because you get these players that all of a sudden have a great upsurge, and you want to introduce them to the world. You want them to transcend the sport and get on covers of magazines. But it seems to hurt them a little bit and maybe kind of dilutes the hunger a little bit in the process."

Still, players have to be able to "get it back", much like the way Evert feels Garbine Muguruza has shown this month after a slump following her Wimbledon final.

"How much do you want it?" questioned Evert. "If you're hungry and want it badly enough, you make it happen. You figure it out. So if it means taking three months off and trying to figure out what's wrong or healing, you do it. You come back with a vengeance."

It is this "extra emotional component" that sets Maria Sharapova apart from the rest, she said - a point with which former world No. 1 Martina Hingis agreed.

Said the Swiss, playing in the doubles event with Sania Mirza: "Maybe a little bit of the reason is also because (the players) are too happy, too soon.

"Maria had some problems physically but every time she stepped on court, she was ready to give it a fight and give it her all. You always have to give her a lot of credit for that, and that's why she was able to stay next to Serena. They make the max out of their potential on their own court."

Said Evert: "It's an intense desire. It's almost like you want it and need it at the same time. The hungry players, like Maria and Serena, they just figure it out. Even if all the odds are against them, they figure it out."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2015, with the headline 'VITAL HUNGER ABSENT IN SOME STARS: EVERT'. Print Edition | Subscribe