As the final Miami Open on Key Biscayne draws to a close, perhaps no other woman has embodied the South Florida flavor of the legendary Crandon Park tennis tournament more than Hall of Famer Chris Evert, who played the event her entire career and spoke glowingly about the island that she said is like home.
The 18-time Gram Slam winner won the Miami Open, then known as The Lipton, in 1986, defeating Steffi Graff 6-4, 6-2. “I loved the tournament because I could stay at my house in Boca (Raton), and even when I lived in Ft. Lauderdale, I could go back if I wanted to. If not, I stayed overnight here,” Evert said while standing outside the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center reflecting on her days playing at Crandon Park for more than 20 years. “I was used to the heat so I didn’t mind the heat too much, but it hey, it was my hometown.”
The 63-year-old legend of the game was visiting the Village as part of a clinic she gave for 40 lucky fans who got a chance to learn the game from one of the best ever, take pictures and even attend a post practice question-and-answer session that left many of the attendees in awe.
Maureen Grimmer made the drive from Estero on the west side of Florida to meet a woman she had admired for years. “It was fabulous,” Grimmer said, standing outside the Ritz-Carlton’s main entrance. “It was fantastic, she is just every bit a wonderful, down-to-earth person as you’d hope she would be. She was my idol, I probably watched every match she ever played on TV. I’m not that much difference in age. And so, I really, really was so happy to see her.”
Grimmer’s friend, Helen Fox, wasn’t able to play with Evert during the clinic because of a knee injury but still had the time of her life. “Meeting Chrissy Evert was just unbelievable,” Fox said about her interaction with legend. “She’s just such a reachable person.”
Still looking like she could play professionally today, the blonde who ruled the baseline for nearly 18 years has a resume that is unsurpassed in many ways. Evert reached 34 Grand Slam singles finals, more than any other player in the history of professional tennis. She holds the record of most consecutive years to win at least one Grand Slam title, accomplishing that feat 13 times in a row.
Now a tennis commentator for ESPN and still running her namesake tennis academy in Boca Raton, Evert’s career winning percentage of 89.97 is the highest in the history of the Open era for men or women, with a record of 1,309-46.
Fans at the Miami Open remember Evert well.
Margret Wilson was taking in the action near the food court when she shared her feelings about the former No.1 player in the world. “I thought she was a very classy lady, she’s a legend,” Wilson said about Evert. “She just had such good sportsmanship and grace.”
Linda Cook was walking outside Stadium Court during the Venus Williams vs. Johanna Konta match when she told the story about watching Evert play in person years ago.
“In Indianapolis we used to have a women’s tournament, a clay court tournament, and I went to it and she was there. Jimmy Connors played it too, those were the best players and the best days,” Cook said, adding that Evert was the quintessential player in her eyes. “She was just so steady, so consistent, she was my first favorite player of all time.
“Everything she did was just perfect.”
Evert has played tennis all around the world, and South Florida continues to hold a special place in her competitive heart.
She talked about the Miami Open leaving Key Biscayne and having mixed feelings about one of her favorite venues moving to Miami Gardens, but professed her continued allegiance to the game she loves being played at the highest levels in her backyard.
“I will always support any tournament that is in South Florida, and Key Biscayne is a beautiful place to have a tennis tournament,” Evert said just before climbing into a white Range Rover. “I’m a little sad that it’s leaving, but at the same time I think tennis has progressed so that it needs maybe a bigger facility to hold not only the players but the spectators. It’s so international now and it’s grown. The sport has grown and needs a bigger venue.”
The revered champion with the local roots admitted she will always have an emotional connection to Key Biscayne and the game that brought them together. “Tennis is so big in Florida and so popular and so fan-oriented I was always happy to play this tournament,” Evert said about playing at Crandon Park, smiling when asked if she will return to the Key once the Miami Open is gone. “I’m a Floridian no matter what.”