Tennis Legend Chris Evert: Winning In Life

At the end of the day, it’s all just about being grateful.

To lose is not to fail. There is a difference.

Chris Evert did not like to lose, and she readily admits it. For a tennis superstar who was at the top of her game, working her glutes off to be — and stay — Number One, losing can be a pain in the neck. But, there are important lessons to be gained. As the saying goes, sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

“You set goals… even if you don’t necessarily succeed, it’s the journey, the fact that you gave 100 per cent,” says Evert, who, now 62, has a rather different relationship with success that does not come in the tangible form of a trophy.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion was in Singapore two weeks ago as part of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals tour. On her last day here, we got our second chance at a one-on-one, face-to-face interview with Evert (if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again — sense a theme here yet?) — and boy, did she play ball, with her fiery repartees, spontaneous truth bombs, disarming candour, and an amazing sense of humour.

It is 1pm on a Sunday. We’ve convened at a WTA suite at Marina Bay Sands. A tennis legend — and the original style icon of centre court wayyy before the ilk of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova — is sitting

next to me, so close I could touch her if I stretched out my arm. But I did not. I did not want to incur the wrath of her backhand. Also, I’m not a psychopath. But I digress.

For the next 30 minutes, one outspoken Evert chats with me, no holds barred, about her journey to the top, being Number One — the good (money, fame, success) and the bad (sacrifices and compromises in her personal life), which you’d expect someone like her to eschew discussing — dealing with anxiety, the things that make her happy now, the importance of being nice (one word: Karma), and what more she hopes to accomplish in 2018.

Nope, it was no ordinary Sunday. Yet, it also felt strangely normal. Chris Evert serving up advice about letting go (“You can’t be perfect. Nobody’s perfect.”) Chris Evert rolling her eyes at the mention of Donald Trump (“Don’t even get me started!”). Chris Evert reaching into the Guylian box for a seashell chocolate. That is, until Chris Evert started reaching for the diamond tennis bracelets on a velvet tray, and putting them on for the shoot segment of our interview. In case you didn’t know, Chris Evert is the woman who “invented” the tennis bracelet (that story itself is pretty legendary. Read it here.)

Surreal. And so awesome. Advantage us!

In collaboration with The Canary Diamond Co.

Success is a word that must come up often in your career. But at different stages of life, the definition of “success” tends to change. Can you tell me what success meant to you when you were younger, and what it means to you now?
Chris Evert: My definition of success has always been to work hard to try to achieve my goals. You set goals, and you know, even if you don’t necessarily succeed, it’s the journey, the fact that you gave 100 per cent, and that you committed to it. Obviously, earlier on in my life, it was about playing tennis. I put my mind to winning tournaments and trying to be No 1 — that was success for me. Now, it’s not as tangible, it’s more of something I feel, you know, like if my children turn out to be nice, kind people, that would be success to me now.

Some would say that a happy life is a successful life. What makes you happy these days?
CE: My boys. I have three sons. I think just the fact that they’re doing okay, that they’re healthy and not having big problems, then that makes me happy. Being around them makes me happy. Being at peace with myself makes me happy.

Being at peace with yourself — how do you try to achieve that?
CE:
With a lot of work (laughs). I wonder how many people really feel at peace… You know, I think you pay the price for fame — there’s no doubt about it. We earn a lot of money, and we are famous and successful but, you lose something, too. And that’s the pricey part. When you’re up there, at No 1, you’re a little entitled, and you have a little bit of an ago — which you sort of need to become No 1 in the first place, but you also have to work at kind of undoing that and come back down to earth. You talk things out with somebody or you just try to figure it out in your own heart.

You spent — and are still spending — a significant part of your life in the public eye, do you make it a point to take five minutes every day to just be with yourself and work on what’s inside, as you said?
CE: Sure! More than five minutes! Haha. I definitely turn inwards a lot — like, three to four times a day — just to check in. I make sure my feet are on the ground, that I’m living by my values and standards. I make sure I’m calm because I have a tendency to get anxious. I sometimes have a little anxiety attack for whatever reason, and so I have to try to stay centred and calm.

For the benefit of those who also experience anxiety, precisely how do you manage your attacks and, as we say these days, self-care?
CE: I do a lot of yoga, hot yoga. I get massages once a week, and I get my sleep. You’ve got to do all of these things — it’s sleep, it’s exercise, it’s food. Get all that right first. And then, here’s something my life coach and I talk about a lot: When, for instance, somebody lashes out at you, it’s their problem. Chances are, they are in pain. People who say bad things about you, who are judgemental and critical of you — it’s not always about you, it could be about them. Everybody has a cross to bear, and, you know, it makes me feel better to be of service to others, to reach out to somebody, or call somebody that I haven’t called in a long time. When you are thinking of giving to others, that will take away part of the pain that you have yourself. Anxiety is fear. It can be guilt and shame also, so you need to figure out why you have anxiety. It took me years to find out why I was having anxiety. For you, it could be that you’re putting too much pressure on yourself — you can’t be perfect. Nobody’s perfect.

The people you meet on the way up are people you’re going to meet on the way down, so, what I’ve learned is that you’d better be nice to everybody.

You quite famously said that you didn’t like to lose…
CE:
Yes, I didn’t like to lose, back in my day. Like I said before, my idea of success or happiness is quite different now. Losing is not necessarily failure. But you give up a lot to get to the top, to be the best there is. You sacrifice friendships, time with the family, and you tend to become self-absorbed, thinking about yourself and what you need to do to reach your goal. So, relationships suffer, and that’s the price you pay.

What has tennis taught you about life and love?
CE:
 What it has taught me about life… well, obviously, it taught me that you have to work hard at everything in life. And that if things aren’t going you way, you have every chance to turn things around. So, if you’re losing in a match, for example, you could still win it; if things aren’t working out in life — if your relationships or your health or something else is suffering — these things happen, but you can turn it around. You just have to be patient.

 

WHENEVER I FEEL DOWN, I THINK, ‘WHAT THE HECK DO I HAVE TO BE DOWN ABOUT?’

Adversity builds strength, it builds character. To be a professional tennis player is hard work — physically hard work. And you have to be tough and thick-skinned. I think that I carry that over into my private life, too.

What about love?
CE: Oh yeah, so you’re trying to get love out of this, are you? (Laughs) I mean, I think it’s also taught me that the people you meet on the way up are people you’re going to meet on the way down, so, what I’ve learned is that you’d better be nice to everybody. Don’t get too big for your britches, and don’t think you’re above everybody because when you start losing, those people may not be around anymore, but if you build relationships that are solid, they will be (there for you).

What is the most important life lesson you’ve learned to date?
CE:
 Your actions have consequences. Whatever you do will come back to you. I believe 100 per cent in karma.

When things are looking down, what do you do to give yourself a quick boost of confidence, or an emotional hug?
CE: Whenever I feel down, I think, “what the heck do I have to be down about?” Then I start to think about things I’m grateful for. I mean, I have a wonderful life, I have three healthy boys, I have a wonderful family, I have it all, you know? I can take care of myself financially, and really, I have a lot of love surrounding me. I think that at the end of the day, it’s all just about being grateful.

I imagine your life must have been extremely structured and disciplined. Did you use to have a special morning routine or rituals?
CE:
When I was playing competitively, I didn’t talk to anybody before a match, so I would have an hour of solitude just being in the locker room, in the corner, and whenever somebody would start to approach me, I’d give them the look, like, don’t even think about it, you know. I liked to be alone before my matches and preserve my energy. I didn’t want to be drained by conversations. Mentally, I would use imagery — visualise

myself winning points — as a sort of positive reinforcement.

If you could ask anyone a question, who would you ask and what would the question be?
CE:
Geez Louise! Haha. I mean… I guess I would ask God, maybe, why innocent people are dying, or why there is so much suffering, and injustice… yeah. I suppose I have a few questions for Donald Trump, too, but don’t even get me started.

Finally, what is one thing you’d like to accomplish in 2018?
CE: Oh, that’s a good question. Erm, I would like to continue on my journey of searching for inner peace and joy. Maybe travel a little more — I know that sounds funny, but what I mean is I’d like to get out of the box a bit more because I have a pretty fixed routine — I get up, I go to my tennis academy, and I commentate on tennis tournaments… my life is pretty structured. So I’d like to be more spontaneous, how’s that? Think outside the box a little bit.

PHOTOGRAPHY  //  KARMAN TSE
TENNIS BRACELETS  //  THE CANARY DIAMOND CO
OUTFIT  //  BOSS

The Canary Diamond Co is located at 402 Orchard Road, Delfi Orchard. 

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