PARIS — The years creep up on us all, even 18-time Grand Slam singles champions.

Yes, Chris Evert is now, impossibly, a grandmother. Her son Nicky and wife Rebecca recently brought Hayden James Mill into the world.

“He’s so sweet,” Evert said Wednesday from her Paris hotel. “I miss him already.”

One thing she won’t miss? Reminders that she is, well …

“Really, really old,” Evert said, laughing.

Photos: The Roland Garros greatness of Chris Evert

Longtime fans who can still picture the Floridian wielding that Wilson Pro Staff wooden racquet may not want to believe this but — it’s been 50 years since Evert won her first major, at Roland Garros in 1974. One half century.

The world was indeed a different place. In professional tennis, the Open Era was just dawning, and Grand Slams didn’t have the heft they do today. Back in Evert’s day, two tour tournaments offered the same amount of points as a major, and the travel to Europe and Australia was more difficult.

In 1973, her first appearance in Paris, the 18-year-old Evert lost a three-set match to Margaret Court in the final. Court, more than a dozen years older, was down a set and a break and came back to win her fifth and final title at Roland Garros.

“Boy, this was a little different than juniors,” Evert said. “The good news was I should have beaten her. The bad news was I wasn’t as mentally tough as she was — or maybe taking it seriously enough.”

The other takeaway, one that would sustain her in a record-breaking run of seven titles at Roland Garros, was that clay was the perfect surface for her punishing baseline game.

A year later, Evert was only 19, but she had already beaten Billie Jean King and Court on clay. Walking onto the court at Stade Roland Garros for the final against Olga Morozova, she knew she was going to win. For the dashing style of the time belonged to the serve-and-volley players.

“I knew Olga was more effective on the grass, because she could serve and volley,” Evert said. “We were using wooden racquets, and the balls were a lot slower, so I had time to pass her every time she would serve and volley. The generation ahead of me, they were not groundstrokers. The generation that I helped bring in, with Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg, that was the start of playing on the baseline, hitting ground strokes.”

The final was 6-1, 6-2, and Evert had secured her first major title. Borg, an 18-year-old from Sweden, won on the men’s side. Evert, in the midst of a record 55-match win streak finished the year 100-7. She won her second consecutive French Open title in 1975, defeating Martina Navratilova 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 in the final.

And then, for three straight years, Evert did not play in Paris.

World Team Tennis, a mixed-gender league that held court during the American summers, began operating in 1974 and attracted the biggest stars from professional tennis. Evert, Navratilova, King, Borg and Connors all signed big contracts — and the two weeks of Roland Garros were a critical juncture of the WTT schedule. From Evert’s standpoint, that’s where the money and the competition was.

When she returned after that three-year hiatus, Evert won the French Open in 1979 and 1980, which created this burning question: Could she have won seven straight titles if she had participated from 1976-78? Or 10 overall?

“I would never make that argument,” Evert said, “but people bring it up all the time to me. They say, ‘You could have won 10 French Opens.’ I say, I don’t know about that, but I could probably have won more than seven.

“I wouldn’t trade my experience with World Team Tennis for that. I had great coaches, great teammates and we traveled all over the country. It was really fun.”

After winning Roland Garros in 1983 for the fifth time, Evert suffered a rare Grand Slam lull by her excellent standards. Six majors were contested and, playing five, she didn’t win any. In the first three Slams of 1984, Evert lost to Navratilova in the final. From the year-ending 1982 Toyota Series Championships final to the 1984 US Open, Navratilova won 13 straight matches against her rival.

But after winning the 1984 Australian Open, then played in November, Evert ended that streak against Navratilova in the 1985 French Open final. The score was 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-5.

“That definitely was the most emotional title for me,” Evert said. “Martina was heavily the favorite. That ‘85 title gave me confidence; it was the one that convinced me to play another four years.

“The title in ’86 was icing on the top.”

In 13 appearances at Roland Garros, Evert won seven titles — one more than the great French champion Suzanne Lenglen in the 1920s — and produced a record of 72-6. Steffi Graf would later also finish with six.

Evert finished her career with 157 titles.

By the numbers: Evert and Swiatek share a rich history at Roland Garros

  • Iga Swiatek is the fifth player to win 20 consecutive main-draw matches after Evert (29), Monica Seles (25), Justine Henin (24) and Steffi Graf (20).
  • Swiatek has equaled Evert for the fewest matches played (36) to secure 34 main-draw wins.
  • Only Evert (five) has made more French Open finals than Swiatek (four) in their first six appearances.
  • Swiatek could win the most Grand Slam titles at a single major in her first six main-draw appearances (four at Roland Garros, equaling Evert at the French Open and Seles and Margaret Court at the Australian Open).
  • Swiatek is the fourth player to win her first four French Open semifinals after Evert, Graf and Navratilova.
  • Only Evert and Graf (nine each), Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Navratilova (six each) have made more French Open finals than Swiatek (four)

Note: Statistics refer to Open Era


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