You Go Girl: Why Chris Evert Is Right On The Mark

By Eric Williams
Updated: April 22, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — With the NBA playoffs under way, the NFL draft quickly approaching, Major League Baseball getting in full swing and the NHL – that’s right, the NHL -in bloom, it’s no wonder that one of the sporting world’s biggest story of the week barely made a blip on the national sports radar screen.

However, being a huge tennis follower, who has routinely watched the sport’s biggest and brightest stars for the past three decades, I was intrigued and delighted by the fact that former tennis great, Chris Evert, now the publisher of Tennis Magazine, called out current player, Serena Williams on her lack of commitment to the sport that has allowed her to make millions of dollars and open numerous doors that have, in turn, allowed Williams to pursue various other ventures that have absolutely nothing at all to do with tennis.

Ironically, when I recently wrote a column titled, “The greatest female athletes of all-time,” one of the things I wrote about Williams, and the reason I had her sister Venus ranked higher, was the fact that as talented as Williams was, she seemed to take her incredible athletic gifts for granted.

I also noted in that column that, with her infinite talent, Williams should still be breaking – and setting – nearly every record in the history of women’s tennis.

Whatever the case, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Evert’s comments and had to agree with every single point that she made in her public plea to the gifted athlete.

Before I go any further, here is Evert’s letter in its entirety, which will be followed by some more scathing commentary by yours truly.

Dear Serena,

I’ve been thinking about your career, and something is troubling me. I appreciate that becoming a well-rounded person is important to you, as you’ve made that desire very clear. Still, a question lingers—do you ever consider your place in history?

Is it something you care about? In the short term you may be happy with the various things going on in your life, but I wonder whether 20 years from now you might reflect on your career and regret not putting 100 percent of yourself into tennis. Because whether you want to admit it or not, these distractions are tarnishing your legacy.

Just a couple of years ago, when you were fully committed to the game, you showed the athleticism, shot-making, and competitive desire to become the greatest player ever. Many besides myself shared the same sentiment. You won five of the six Grand Slams you entered over the 2002 and 2003 seasons and looked utterly dominant in the process.

Then you got sidetracked with injuries, pet projects, and indifference and have won only one major in the last seven you’ve played. I find those results hard to fathom. You’re simply too good not to be winning two Grand Slam titles a year. You’re still only 24, well within your prime. These are crucial years that you’ll never get back. Why not dedicate yourself entirely for the next five years and see what you can achieve?

Perhaps the reason I feel so strongly about this is because I wasn’t blessed with the physical gifts you possess. I know that the lifespan of an athlete’s greatness is brief and should be exploited. Once you get to No. 1 in the world and start winning major titles, you should see how far you can take it.

You’ve become very good at many things, but how many people would trade that to be great at just one thing? I don’t see how acting and designing clothes can compare with the pride of being the best tennis player in the world. Your other accomplishments just can’t measure up to what you can do with a racquet in your hand.

Ironically, I believe that if you fulfill your potential on the tennis court, all your other endeavors will become that much easier to pursue. You could become the most famous athlete in the world. Every magazine will want you on its cover and any door you wish to walk through will be wide open.

When I was playing, I always knew there would be time to get married, have children, do TV commentating, and even coach if I wanted. I assure you there will be time for you to chase all your dreams once you’re through with tennis.

I offer this only as advice, not criticism, from someone with experience. If you’re completely happy with the way your life is, then crumple up this letter and throw it away. I wish you nothing but luck and success in all your pursuits. Just remember that you have in front of you an opportunity of the rarest kind—to become the greatest ever at something.

I hope you make the most of it.

Chris Evert, Publisher

Now, let me say that, this letter from Evert to Williams is, not only dead on, but eloquent as well. Evert didn’t try to force her views on Williams – on anyone else for that matter – she simply stated the truth. To be totally honest, I am absolutely surprised that someone hasn’t said as much to Williams already. Then again, nothing surprises me these days.

I mean, has there ever been a time when so many world class athletes wanted to try their respective hands at something else? Roy Jones wanted to be a basketball player and now Serena wants to become either, the next Donna Karan or Madonna, take your choice. I guess LeBron James will want to try his hand at synchronized swimming next.

All jokes aside, I have to say that every point Evert made in her almost pleading letter, was, once again, right on the mark. It’s probably not even close. Williams is so powerful and athletically gifted, that she could probably beat half of the men who compete on the men’s tour.

Think about it. Has there ever been a female tennis player as athletically gifted as Williams? Unequivocally not! As Evert so poignantly pointed out, it was only a couple of years ago that Williams appeared as if she would shatter every single female tennis record ever. However, as Evert also noted, since that time, Williams has appeared both, uninterested and unprofessional.

Once again, Evert is right on the mark when she says that if Williams were to dedicate herself solely to tennis for the next five years, she could firmly establish herself as the greatest female tennis player of all-time.

At 24 years of age, that would make Williams only 29 if she decided to hang up her racket at that time. If she won two Grand Slam titles per year until that time, Williams would have a staggering total of 17, with a few more years to spare if she wanted.

Now before I close out this column, let me add that it is one thing to be called out on the carpet by some sports writing junkie who has never competed in a professional sporting event in their entire lifetime. However, to be called out by Evert, one of the greatest female tennis players ever, is entirely different.

I mean, it’s not as if Evert doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The former tennis champion routinely battled Martina Navratilova, the woman I consider the greatest female tennis player ever, in some of the greatest athletic face-offs I have ever witnessed in any sport.

Evert has accomplished everything in professional tennis that there is to accomplish, so if anyone is qualified to speak on the state of Williams’ game and mentality, Evert would undeniably be one of the few people alive who could do so.

In closing, I have to say that not only is Evert correct in nearly every area of her summation, but by calling Williams out publicly, she may become the catalyst that finally gets through to ultra-talented tennis star.

If this touching letter doesn’t get through to Williams now, nothing ever will – and that, would be even sadder than watching Williams throw away her athletic gift like yesterday’s old newspaper.