On the tour, though, Evert was known as the “Ice Maiden.” With a steely determination never to lose, she loathed making mistakes and gave her opponents the impression that she was perfect … which wasn’t true but made them try too hard, forcing errors.
Evert sized up other players from before the match right through their advances in the draw. She also played head games.
In 1980, Mary Carillo nervously walked out to play Evert in doubles. On the way, Evert turned and said in a friendly way that it had been a long time since they’d played. When Carillo noted that this was the first time, Evert glanced over and said, “So … How does it feel?”
It was precisely her killer instincts that kept Evert at the top. Examples:
- Once, after a U.S. Open match, she asked Carillo’s help in prying her fingers from her racket, she was gripping it so hard.
- After losing a singles final at Wimbledon, Evert flew to Florida with her tennis-playing husband, John Lloyd. He figured she’d want to chill for a while. Instead, she wanted to start practicing immediately, saying: “I don’t want to lose a match like that again.”
- As Lloyd’s own career tanked, Evert became increasingly disgusted with him for showing no heart and quitting at the first sign of adversity. More than once, she called him “gutless.”
- After hearing that she’d have to become the aggressor to beat Tracy Austin, Evert changed her normal playing patterns, took risks, became unpredictable, began forcing Austin errors and won decisively.
“If you let up for one minute,” she said once, “someone [is] going to come along and beat you.”
—Adapted from The Rivals, Johnette Howard, Broadway Books.