National Press Club

Tennis Plays Positive Role in Society, Especially Among Youth, Legend Chris Evert Tells Luncheon

May 7, 2013 | By Bill Miller | williammiller512@aol.com

Tennis great Chris Evert spoke at a National Press Club Luncheon, May 7, 2013.  Ms. Evert signed many items for members and guests including this tennis racket to be auctioned at the Club's Folurth Estate Awards Dinner.

Tennis great Chris Evert spoke at a National Press Club Luncheon, May 7, 2013. Ms. Evert signed many items for members and guests including this tennis racket to be auctioned at the Club's Folurth Estate Awards Dinner.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Tennis legend Chris Evert, winner of 18 Grand Slam championships and No. 1 ranked women’s player for seven years, called tennis “the greatest sport out there” at a National Press Club luncheon Tuesday, May 7.

“It can be a passport to a better, happier and healthier life,” she said. “It can be played by people of every age and ability. It is a tool for connecting people of different backgrounds, for fostering friendships, and building more vibrant and better communities.”

But most of all, said Evert, who retired in 1989 after a 17-year career, tennis can positively redirect the lives of young people.

Thanks to the United States Tennis Association, which last year poured $12.8 million into youth tennis programs, the largest increase in tennis participation in the nation is among children between 6 and 11, she said. A large portion of those kids are African-Americans.

USTA’s “10 and Under Iniative,” focused primarily on schools and public playgrounds, she said, is "taking kids who have been on a fast track to nowhere and putting them on a fast track to success.”

She pointed to a USTA study showing that children who play tennis are more likely to get good grades and attend college than those who don’t. They’re also less likey to get in trouble, engage in smoking, drinking and other unhealthy behavior, or becoming overweight.

Evert, who became America’s tennis sweetheart when she began winning titles as a teenager and earned the nickname “Chrissie” that has stuck with her, also praised USTA’s programs to help people with disabilities and its outreach to military troops.

Asked during the question period to comment on the the U.S.’s diminished ability to produce champion players, she said that “the world has caught up.”

During her career, she noted, only about 10 other nations competed in tennis, but now most do -- and during the last five years players from other other nations have begun to dominate. She also suggested that U.S. players “might lack the hunger” of those from countries that have more recently taken up the sport.

But within the last couple of years, she said, “there’s been a real change.” Operator of a tennis academy in her native Florida, she said she is seeing “a lot of [U.S.]players between 18 and 21 starting to make their move.”

Speaking only days after Washington Wizards’ basketball player Jason Collins became the only active player in a major professional sport to announce that he is gay, Evert reflected on how “so much different the world is now” than when she played. Widespread acceptence of Collins’ announcement, she said, shows how much more open-minded people are now than when her rivals Martina Navratilova (a close friend) and Billie Jean King came out 30 years ago.

At the end of her appearance, Evert presented a signed tennis racket to National Press President Angela Greiling Keane, who announced it will be auctioned off at the the Club’s next Fourth Estate Awards dinner. Evert also, as King did when she spoke two years ago, threw out two dozen signed tennis balls to the audience.