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October 27, 2018

Chris Evert

Kallang, Singapore

BLAIR HENLEY: Thank you so much for joining us. As you can see, we have yet another special guest with us today, and we thought instead of having me list all of her incredible accomplishments, it would be so much more fun to take a look at a video. So if you direct your attention to the screens.

CHRIS EVERT: Just in case you forgot who I am (smiling).

(Video played.)

BLAIR HENLEY: You can see the beautiful trophy right here. Please welcome Chris Evert.


CHRIS EVERT: Thank you.

BLAIR HENLEY: I will start us off and open it up to questions. We talked about this earlier in the week, but when you look at the fact that you were part of the group of players who really helped build the WTA, how proud are you when you see what it's become when you see what this event has become?

CHRIS EVERT: Well, it's been a lot of years. I think that's why this trophy, to me, is so important, because I think nowadays, it seems to be all about the Grand Slams. I think the focus is really winning the Grand Slams in a lot of the players' minds.

In our day, back in the day, it was more about doing well on the tour, because we were building the tour with the help of Billie Jean obviously as our fearless leader. But we were trying to build the tour, trying to promote ourselves.

So to win eight, nine, ten tournaments in a year was, you know, that was the ultimate. To be ranked No. 1 at the end of the year meant that you were the most consistent, the most focused, and you were just having these great results week in and week out.

That, to me -- I mean, that, to me, meant more than winning a Grand Slam title as far as -- that wasn't even the question. But as far as the tour, what it is today, I mean, I'm just amazed at the athleticism of the women. You know, in our day we trained on the court. Very rarely -- we started going in the gym, you know, probably in the '80s, but early '70s, we were practicing two hours a day.

Nowadays the athletes are training like Olympic athletes. We were not training like Olympic athletes in the '70s, for sure. But nowadays, the women are -- that's why I think that equal-prize-money issue is like it's just a no-brainer, because the women -- I have seen firsthand at my academy how Naomi trains and how Cibulkova has trained and how Monica Puig has trained. I'm telling you the women train just as hard as the men. With the bodies that they have, they are just as intense.

So, I mean, it's like why not equal prize money? The women are doing everything that the men are doing. But I'm just amazed at just the professionalism and the discipline that the women have shown us.

BLAIR HENLEY: We can open it to questions.

Q. I'm just curious, back in the day, obviously the first year that the computerized rankings were introduced, and then now we have obviously the No. 1 ranking and you were the first No. 1, do you remember what those discussions were like as to why the tour felt like they needed computerized rankings? What was the reaction from inside the players as to whether or not they wanted that or didn't want that? Give us some context historically.
CHRIS EVERT: Oh, God. I was like a kid back then. But I don't really -- I mean, obviously I think that it's almost like to be more professional. I mean, I think it was up to people's minds. I mean, it's like going to watch ice-skating at the Olympics. It's all -- you know, there is a little favoritism and it's not all correct.

And I think that, you know, they put certain points on certain tournaments and they built up the Grand Slams and according to the prize money at the tournaments. Just to be more professional and to be more true to really the rankings.

It's a lot like shot clock. It's a lot like calling lines. You have the human element. There can always be error. But I think when you get to computerized, you're going to get more of a true meaning who is No. 1 and who is No. 2.

Q. You were talking about equal prize money that the women have at the Grand Slams. At some of the combined events, too. Do you feel that many of the top players today they are not pushing enough or having it fully on the tour? Because it seems it should be the next logical step now.
CHRIS EVERT: Well, we have it when we are, again, with the men, obviously, so that's where it shows up the most. The men have their own tour and the women have their own tour. I think there is different negotiations. The ATP is negotiating a different product and different needs than the women are.

So I think it's even, but I think obviously the men are getting a little bit more. You know, it will happen. It's not going to happen overnight. With this conversation now the last year, the Me Too movement and all about equality and all this, I think, you know, it was long overdue, because I think we have already had that discussion in tennis, you know, of all the sports. I don't believe that golf has equal prize money at all, right? And I don't believe the other, in basketball and any other sport, there is equal prize money like in tennis.

So we have come a long way, and we are ahead of the pack, and we are getting better and better. We are getting more equal as each year goes on.

Q. Naomi Osaka always practice at Boca Raton. Did you remember first meeting or first practice with Naomi? How impression did you have about her?
CHRIS EVERT: I remember Naomi and her dad came to our academy, and they were practicing about -- I would say about three years ago before she really started to make it big. That was the time, three or four years ago, I felt like she had to make a decision whether she was going to go Japanese or American.

I remember kind of hearing the conversations, you know, the conversations that were going on. I didn't see a lot of help, you know, with the USTA, and they were pretty much on their own.

When I watched her play, she would hit two balls in the court and the third one would go in the fence. That was about three years ago. And I remember thinking, why is she trying to hit the ball so hard? Why? Why doesn't she keep a couple of balls in the court? But she was so powerful with her serve and her groundies, but so inconsistent three years ago.

I mean, the biggest change came when Sascha came into the picture, because -- I will never forget a funny story about him. I saw him at the Evert Academy, and I go, What are you doing here? He goes, I'm trying out, basically. I'm trying out -- this is my first day of tryouts to be Naomi's coach.

Within five minutes, the guy fractured his ankle. He tripped over a ball, fractured his ankle. He was out for six months. He had, like, a cast on and then a boot and he was out there feeding balls. The next day he was out there feeding balls with a boot on, just feeding balls. He was laughing about it as he iced his ankle. But it was, like, Are you going to get the job? Do you think you got the job? It wasn't a very good introduction.

But when I saw him working with her -- and I knew in his mind he was going to train her like he saw that Serena was trained. Because he wasn't Serena's coach. He was her hitting partner. But he was privy to every coaching advice available.

He looked at me, and he said, you know, She's like Serena in so many ways. Obviously he meant game, the game. She's so young. We don't know her personality yet, you know. But I think game-wise just with the power.

And so he started really working on her movement, which that has made the difference. If you look at her movement when she played Madison Keys and lost that match at the US Open on TV and look at her movement now, there is just no comparison. He worked on her movement, worked on her consistency, and the confidence level is really -- she has nowhere to go but up, in my eyes.

She's young. She's so fresh that she has a lot in her, but I mean, obviously this time of the year, I think she just totally got burnt out.

I mean, she's really exciting. I love her personality. I mean, she's come out of her shell now, again, compared to last year. She still has a long way to go. I think there is a lot of personality there that will come out. But how wonderful is it to have a Haitian dad, Japanese mom, and living in America? I think she has a lot of different angles that make her more interesting.

Q. Simona Halep was No. 1 pretty much all year and got to finish year-end No. 1 again and talks a lot about how much she wanted to be No. 1 and enjoys being No. 1. Do you think that might change attitudes for the next generation who may see No. 1 as being a goal and something they really want to become?
CHRIS EVERT: You're saying you don't think the younger generation wants to be...

Q. Versus prioritizing Grand Slams, as you had said.
CHRIS EVERT: Oh, oh, oh, okay.

Yeah, I think that because we have four Grand Slams a year, I think that they go towards what's the next Grand Slam? You know what I'm saying? They really want to do well in Grand Slams. I think a lot is -- I think they know if you win a Grand Slam, it changes your life. Maybe you get a big bonus from your companies. It puts you on the map. You know, you're in an iconic group, your name is on a trophy, goes down in history.

I think the concept of No. 1 is the whole year. I think it's kind of tiring to think about. You know, it's a long year. So they set -- their goals are more narrow. You know, they're not the big, overall, you know, I want to play and I want to be No. 1 at the end of the year. They have to set specific goals, and I think they target the Grand Slams because it really could change their life. But I think when you're young, the players are doing that.

Q. And what do you think has been the key to Simona's ability to stay on top of the rankings throughout the whole season?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, I think one of the -- I keep naming the coaches. Maybe I should be coaching now. Just kidding. (Laughter.)

Now that I think about it, the coaches, they really play a big part in today's game, bigger than we think. I think Darren had a lot to do with it. The fact that he left her after -- was it Indian Wells or Miami? Miami maybe? Miami.

Because her temperament wasn't good. I mean, she was a very -- she was so tough on herself and she was hard on herself and hard on her team on the side.

He said to her -- he was like hitting his head in the wall trying to get her to calm down and not be so feisty out there. I think when he left he said, You know, you're not doing what I'm asking you to do and you're not being fair on yourself or on your team. You've got to change. And he left.

I think that opened her eyes to, you know, I better be more professional on the court. I better have more belief in myself. I better manage myself emotionally a lot better.

As soon as she turned the corner there, I think her whole game changed. I mean, she won matches when she was down; whereas before she would be -- I saw her a couple of matches she'd be down a set and a break and she'd start slashing balls and not really caring if they are going in the fence or in.

She started to still hang in there when she was losing and not get upset. That turned her whole career around. So I feel that even more so than any one specific area in her game, her serve has improved, but she doesn't win any free points. Her moving has always been sensational and she's always been solid. I think the attitude was the big key there.

Q. Kiki Bertens is a new face to the top 10. I was wondering what you think of her game and how far she can go and if she might be able to win a Grand Slam.
CHRIS EVERT: Absolutely. After watching her this year, absolutely she could win a Grand Slam. Absolutely.

Again, you know, two years ago Kiki was inconsistent and not moving as well. She's fitter now than she's ever been. She's hitting some big shots with consistency.

Again, it's the attitude. I just see her feeling that she belongs in the top three or four in the world. She belongs here. Obviously she's in the semifinals. Could be in the finals.

So she's gaining more and more confidence. It's really that belief that has really propelled her and is going to propel her. It's all up here (pointing to her head).

The thing is Kiki just needs more experience. Sometimes it takes getting to the semis or finals of a Grand Slam before winning it. She hasn't been there yet. That's why this would be huge if she did well here. It would huge. It would be a great steppingstone. The only thing lacking with her right now is confidence, and that breeds belief, because she has the game. Could improve the backhand a little bit, but she has everything else.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about Sloane? Obviously very talented, but it's like the Sloane who arrived here was really wanting to be here, and there are other times when it seems like she's maybe there or maybe not.
CHRIS EVERT: Yes, Sloane is actually my pick. Probably all your pick too. I think she's my pick to win, the way I have seen her focusing. It's really interesting. When you're commentating, you're not down on the court. And the beauty of Singapore is we're right there, right in our little box seats. That's why I fly 22 hours, so I can sit in a box seat and watch these women.

I can see her reaction, and you can really tell what the player is feeling. You know, she's a thing of beauty. She really is. I couldn't believe some of the gets last night. Kerber, I mean, Angie played great. Angie played really well and moved very well and just couldn't find an answer, you know.

The court is just slow enough so that Sloane can -- she runs down everything, but she can unleash her power when she needs to, that forehand, and she can hit big first serves. But again, it's the focusing and valuing every single point and not having those ups-and-downs. I have seen two matches that she's played brilliantly. The other one I'm not sure. I think she maybe played a loose set somewhere along the way.

But as long as she has that intense attitude -- I think everybody is going to win a Grand Slam next year. I think everybody is going to win one. I think there should be about 20 Grand Slams, because -- you know, she's definitely gonna win more than one. Let's put it that way.

Q. Also, as somebody who is known for being able to puzzle out what you did on court and how to work out your opponent and everything, I'd like to know your thoughts on on-court coaching, because I would imagine you think the players should be out there alone. But I might be wrong.
CHRIS EVERT: I think that -- I loved it the way it's going now with the WTA. I think it's great for TV and it's great for the game.

With Grand Slams, I'm a little more reserved about that, because I do feel that you have to problem-solve yourself. A great coach will teach their pupil to coach themselves and to be a good self-coach.

And if I was assured that it would bring more viewership and more spectators and it would enhance the sport of tennis, I would be all for on-court coaching. But I'm not convinced that it's going to change the dial at all for Grand Slams. I think people will tune in to watch Grand Slams because they are Grand Slams and because everybody is playing and because they are really special.

So I would prefer to keep the tradition and not have it. I will get fired from ESPN for saying that. (Laughter.)

Q. Kim Clijsters was here the other day, and she said she loves watching the tour right now, because she can't guess who is going to be in the semifinals or who is going to win the tournaments. Do you agree with her?
CHRIS EVERT: Who said this?

Q. Kim Clijsters. Do you agree with her or do you prefer to have five or ten women from January to November fighting?
CHRIS EVERT: You know what? We have had eras where there have been great rivalries and eras where there has been a dominating player, Serena, and it's kind of refreshing to see this era now where everybody is fighting for the No. 1 spot. Everyone is fighting to sort of -- what's the word I want to say? Move out from the pack and separate themselves from the pack.

I like it. I like the way it is now, because I think that the women are getting better and better with the competition now, when they're fighting each other. It's only improving their game.

So I'm quite excited and quite intrigued just like a fan, just like anybody else in this era. I'm not saying there should be a rivalry. I'm not saying there should be a dominant player. I kind of like it the way it is now, because we haven't seen this in so long, if ever, this much depth in the game.

I think eventually, even more than a player that separates themselves, eventually I think a rivalry would be nice. We haven't seen one in a while. I think that would be nice if two of the players would get to that point.

But, I mean, I think the thing that we have to remember is this era is unlike any other era, because from the first match in a tournament or a Grand Slam, a top player can lose. You have to have your A game. You are using up so much energy emotionally, mentally, and physically in a tournament, unlike my era, unlike the last era. It's so different now, because there are so many women who are really good out there and getting better and better. And they keep popping up. They keep popping up.

I mean, it's really great to see. I just hope the players don't get burned out, because there's just a lot of tough matches. Look at what Simona Halep had to do this year, the way she pulled herself out -- she had so many three-set matches. And Kerber and Wozniacki. They don't have the one big weapon, so they have to fight and claw their way.

It's just exhausting for me to watch them. Poor Simona has to run three steps for every Venus' one step. And people wonder why she gets tired in a tournament. Well, she's 5'6", for one, so kudos to her for being No. 1 and really playing her style of tennis.

Q. We talk a lot about how tennis has improved and the women's game has improved. I was wondering if there was something from your era that you think was better back then than it is now?
CHRIS EVERT: Well, not physically. I don't see anything -- I mean, I think that, you know, it's hard to say. I feel like I would have said maybe five years ago variety. We dropshotted and lobbed and hit chips. I saw a sliced backhand on that thing and saw a little angle volley.

We could play more shots because we had more time. Now, the power game it's like it's hard to really change the pace in today's game. But in saying that, in the last year, for some reason, I have started to see a lot of dropshots and a lot of drop volleys and a little more change of pace.

So physically, no. This generation does everything better. But mentally, you know, we had -- I like to, I can't put myself physically as far as athletically in the highest group, but mentally I can alongside Steffi and Monica and myself, and, like, Billie Jean. I mean, I feel like we had a burning desire. I feel like we had the hunger maybe more than most of the players do today.

That may not be a good thing in life. May not turn out well in life. But on the court, I think it's a good thing to have if you want to be No. 1 or be a champion.

Q. Kind of the same question. Were there more friendships when you were playing?
CHRIS EVERT: Yes. I didn't know that was part of the equation. I didn't know that's what was meant.

We had a camaraderie, because we helped to build the tour. You know, we really did. We were working -- we were visiting hospitals and we were doing all kinds of press. We were doing a lot of things to help promote the tour, because we started from scratch. We started from nothing.

That was part of the contract that the players have to do X amount of things. I think it's the same thing now. But we had to go out and sell the game. Our friendships, Rosie and Billie Jean and Martina and I would have dinners two, three times a week, and we'd be playing Scrabble and Backgammon and Boggle and cards and everything in between matches.

I went and visited Martina in Aspen. There was camaraderie. There was a friendship. So, yes, because we didn't have our teams. We didn't have a team. We didn't have an entourage. Nowadays you need a team if you're going to be a top player. You need a physio, you need a hitting coach, you need a coach. You need the more people to help you the better, but we didn't have that in our day, so therefore, we went to each other for friendship and for companionship or else it would have been a pretty lonely life.

Q. This year we have many players from 2000 that are climbing the ranking fast. We have the first final between players born in 2001, and we have Yastremska getting closer to the top 50, or Kostyuk making the third round at the Australian Open. I wonder how much you know about these youngsters and what is your thought about them?
CHRIS EVERT: Okay. I'm sorry. Can you repeat that first half of that?

Q. That we have four players born in the 2000, getting in the...
CHRIS EVERT: Wait, wait, wait. You have four...

Q. Four players born in 2000, the year 2000.
CHRIS EVERT: Four players in the year 2000.

Q. Yes. I wonder how much you know about them and if there is anything that impresses you the most about them?
CHRIS EVERT: Okay. I'm sorry. Am I dumb or something? Four players ranked in the top 100. Okay. And the question is what about them?

Q. How much you know about them.
CHRIS EVERT: So are you talking about Amanda?

Q. Danilovic, Yastremska, Potapova, and Kostyuk is not in top 100 but made round 3 at the Australian Open.
CHRIS EVERT: I think I know the most about Amanda because she's had more TV matches. This is the thing. These players, when they win the juniors and they are beating their peers, that's where the pressure is. When they join the tour, and I think Amanda has shown this, they should be, like, so thrilled to play an older player who is going to be tight as a drum when they play them. These young players should feel no pressure whatsoever and should just go out there and play relaxed and loose and free.

The thing is, again, back in the day, you could be 15 or 16 and beat a top player and not now, because the physicalities of the game have changed. The women are so much stronger now than they ever were. At 15, 16, 17, you're not going to be that strong, right, in this day and age.

So you know what? It's like the careers are extended into the late 30s now. Who knows? Maybe one day 40, early 40s. But they're not starting out -- I mean, maybe the players won't start to play their best until their early 20s. You know what I'm saying? I don't think you're going to see great 17, 18, 19-year-old players on a consistent level play week in and week out at a high level. I think it's going to take a little time.

I probably didn't even answer your question, and I'm so sorry.

Q. Totally fine.
CHRIS EVERT: But I want to go back and study those other women, young girls.

Q. Do you see you in any of the players currently inside the top 50 or top 100? I'm sure when you're watching TV, you're not thinking, oh, she reminds me of me. Do you see traces of you through poise or...
CHRIS EVERT: Through style. I mean, I would be, like, Wozniacki, Halep, and Kerber. I would be a counterpuncher, defense player. Not, I mean, I wouldn't be a Serena or Pliskova. I didn't have a big weapon, okay? Just because of the way I'm built.

I would have been a player like those three that I named. Solid, just solid as a rock, hitting with depth, placement, da, da, da, da. And, you know, I think temperament-wise, too, Wozniacki or Kerber -- I mean, Halep, Simona, in her career has been up and down. But, you know, the mental part was my strength.

It's interesting. I don't know how players would fare in this day and age if you give everybody the same chances, same opportunities. It would be interesting.

I think Pliskova is playing well. I picked her to win a Grand Slam next year, her maiden. There have been a few maidens this year, so I pick Pliskova to be the maiden one.

Q. It's interesting because you brought up the way figure skating is judged, and some of the best rivalries in that sport have come between athletes who share a coach. And Venus and Serena obviously had the same coach and grew up to be very great players. Do you think there is an importance with players nowadays in days in tennis working similar or close together so they can practice together? I know there is such an emphasis on an individual nature and working with one's own team, but I know in Florida they try and train closer. Do you think that's important to push one another when they are not at tournaments?
CHRIS EVERT: You mean for the players to practice... I don't think that the players are practicing with one particular player, you know, all the time. I see, at my academy, I see that maybe once a week if Osaka and Monica Puig, before Australia, they may play a match once a week. But that's it.

The other times they'll get hitting partners to play sets with. No, they don't do it too much, but I think it's still good to do it once in a while just to see where you're at, but I don't think so.

What's with the coaches? What's going on with the coaching? What's going on? I don't understand. I don't understand why players don't stay with their players or coaches don't stay with their players. That would be an interesting article for you guys, if anybody knows the scoop.

Q. What's the rivalry you want to see?
CHRIS EVERT: Good question. I actually thought Halep/Stephens when I saw -- was that Cincinnati? Montreal. When I saw them play that match, it was, like, okay, I hope they all take off the next few weeks before the US Open after that match, right?

That was a drag-out fight. I like that. I liked that one a lot, because that is a contrast in personalities and styles, in moods, in coaches. That is a definite contest. That's a Sloane Stephens/Halep.

I'd like to see Muguruza come back. Let's get her going. Really? She's got a lot of talent. Let's get her going, getting back.

But probably those two would be a good one. I mean, Halep/Kerber, it's too -- they are too much alike, I think. Wozniacki is too much alike with all those players.

And you don't have, like, a serve-and-volleyer versus a baseliner anymore. I thought, you know, Steffi and Monica, maybe we can bring that back. That was great. I loved that one. I loved that one.

But I think the one with Sloane would be great.

Q. Since you see Naomi all the time, word on the street is pretty soon she's going to be the richest athlete out there because of the money in Japan and whatever. Does that worry you a little bit? She's so young that it's too much too fast, too many demands on her?
CHRIS EVERT: A lot has happened very quickly with her. I mean, you know, I can't say. I can't reveal anything. But she had a very frugal life a couple years back. I think the money that she's making not only from winning Grand Slams but obviously in Japan, they are just starving for a star, and knowing what Nishikori makes, wow.

You know, it's going to be life-changing for her and very, very important. Her parents are going to play a big role in her development, you know, as a human being but also her tennis development, because, you know, they have got to keep her down to earth. They've got to keep her humble.

From what I see, she is very humble, and from what I see, her parents are very humble people. Hopefully they won't go Hollywood on us. We don't want that to happen.

You know what? You're right. It's about as fast as I have ever seen a star ascend. It's about as fast when you look at not only results but lifestyle, too, and exposure and all that.

Q. I think a tennis academy is not always easy these days. It's a lot of investment and everything. What would you say about the work you're doing now in your academy? Is it any different from what you were doing a few years ago with the main challenges?
CHRIS EVERT: I thought you were going to ask me about investments. I was going to go, Well, stock market didn't look too good the last couple of days. Blue chips.

No. Do I see any differences in the academy?

Q. A lot of academies are closing.
CHRIS EVERT: Closing? We are not closing.

Q. I'm wondering, have you changed anything the way you're working it compared to...
CHRIS EVERT: Well, you know, we have had the academy for over 20 years. Listen, people are going to come in because it's the Evert name, but once they get in the door, if it's not a good program, they're going to leave. So the name only does a certain amount.

We have a great program. We have great coaches. And we are small. We're not too big. There are more expensive academies; let's put it that way. Not that we are cheap, but there are more expensive academies out there. We are small, boutiquey, kind of, and we are very much like a family.

And we do a great job with our kids. So we are not going anywhere, so help me God.

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