Evert Loves Teaching, Mentoring at Academy
Dec 15, 2023
(Editor's note: Tennis legend Chris Evert announced in early December that two years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer she had experienced a recurrence and would undergo chemotherapy treatment. Evert said she would miss broadcasting the Australian Open in January but she would "be ready for the rest of the Grand Slam season." Florida Tennis wishes her a speedy recovery. The following article appeared in the November-December issue of Florida Tennis).
When Chris Evert received the Tim Heckler USPTA Hall of Fame Award this fall in Orlando, she also participated in a question and answer session with veteran tennis journalist Steve Flink. Topics included the beginning of her playing career under the coaching of her father, Jimmy, to her first Grand Slam title in 1974, to her unprecedented rivalry with Martina Navratilova, to co-founding with her brother John the Evert Tennis Academy.
They started the academy in Boca Raton in 1996, and she continues to teach there to this day.
During the school year, the academy coaches 90 juniors full-time, with up to 160 students involved in camps over the summer months.
“While most everyone knows about her illustrious playing career and her recent exploits as a famed commentator on ESPN, few know of the impact that the Evert Academy has had on junior players, collegiate athletes and touring professionals,” said USPTA CEO John Embree. “It is because of the work that she has done with players at all levels that she joins her father as the most recent inductee into the USPTA Tim Heckler Hall of Fame.”
Flink, who along with Chris Evert is an inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, interviewed her during the USPTA’s annual meeting.
Above: Chris Evert with Steve Flink. Photo: USPTA.
“So we’ve got to talk about the academy and what your vision was, because it’s been kind of a gift to you,” Flink said. “I remember we were on the phone earlier this year and you said, I’m just so grateful that I’ve got that academy. That’s why I get out of bed every morning. And you compared it to me with my writing, and you have to consider yourself fortunate to have a passion like that. So you were able to transition to that so quickly as you did with the TV commentary after your playing days ended in 1989. What was your original vision with the academy along with your brother John, and how has it all evolved?”
“I had no vision of an academy,” Evert replied. “My brother John was director of tennis. Well, first of all, he was an IMG agent, and then he was the director of tennis at Saddlebrook. And he kind of knew the ropes for having an academy and how to how to have a program. and had that experience and he came to me. We live in Boca Raton, Florida, and he’s like, let’s do an academy. And I’m like, no. And my dad’s like, no. And so for two years he bugged me, you know?
“(He said) Chrissie, there’s so many players down here, there’s not any great academies. Let’s do an academy, I’ll manage it. You come out, we’ll get the coaches, we’ll just have a good business. And finally I relented after like two years of him bugging me. And it was like the best decision we ever made. And I love having a tennis academy.”
Above: Chris Evert. Photo: Evert Tennis Academy.
Addressing the USPTA coaches attending the annual meeting, Evert noted that “it’s not only about coaching, it’s about the mentoring as well. You know, it’s not only about hitting a tennis ball. I think in the olden days when I was starting out, I think coaching was different. I think it was cookie cutter, get your racquet back. And the fundamentals were the same for everyone.
“Now I think there’s a lot more to being a teaching pro. It’s about knowing the kid, knowing the person. It’s more individual. You don’t train Susie Smith the same as you train Carrie Mathison. They might have two different styles.
“They might have two different personalities. So it’s more like being a psychologist too, and it’s more like just really being a role model for them and being there for them. And it’s also teaching them the mental side of the game as well. I don’t really remember 50 years ago anybody teaching the mental side. There weren’t sports psychologist back then.”
Above: Chris Evert coaching one of her players at the academy. Photo: Evert Tennis Academy.
Evert noted that she has learned a lot from their academy coaches, saying, I’ve learned a lot about the fundamentals, about techniques, about grips, about big targets and, clearance over the net. And I learned a lot from observing the developmental coaches. They don’t get enough credit. You know, it’s the current coaches. And I’m like this player has only had that coach for a year and they’re getting all this attention on TV.
“What about the developmental coaches? Well, who is their developmental coach for 10 years who gave her those great qualities and gave her the discipline and the hope that she could be, you know, number one in the world?”
Evert also noted that “because we’re in Boca we have a lot of the the pros come and train at our academy, especially before the U.S. Open or (Miami Open).
Above: A look at the staff and kids at the academy. Photo: Evert Tennis Academy.
“Tommy Paul’s there all the time. Tiafoe is there. Coco comes around once in a while. Jessica Pegula, Ajla Tomjanovich, you know, Azarenka lives in Boca now. I mean, I can just give you 15 professional players that are there. So I kind of am looking and seeing how they’re training as well. So but it’s been great.”
Flink closed by saying, “Many of you may remember when Chrissy retired in 89, there were these projections from people (as to) who is going to be the next Chris Evert? There never was a next Chris Evert. And as far as I’m concerned, there never will be.”
Written by Florida Tennis Founder and Editor Jim Martz. This article also appears in the November/December 2023 issue of Florida Tennis Magazine. Be sure to subscribe for expanded coverage, exclusive interviews, and in-depth tennis news.