Chris Evert – ‘One blood test saved my life! I’m going to speak out’ – Legends’ Voice

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It was in May of last year that tennis legend Chris Evert completed her sixth and final chemotherapy session to treat stage one ovarian cancer after the 18-time Grand Slam champion was diagnosed with the disease in January 2022.

Evert’s younger sister, former professional tennis player Jeanne Evert Dubin, died from ovarian cancer in 2020 at the age of 62. Evert has said that her doctor told her there was a better than 90% chance the cancer would never return because it was caught so early in her case.

A year on from her final chemotherapy session, the former world No. 1 is returning to Roland-Garros, the scene of seven singles triumphs and two doubles crowns for the American in her decorated career in the sport. It will be a very special appearance for her, coming 50 years after her first appearance at the Paris major – a tournament she played at 13 times between 1973 and 1988.

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After such a tough few years, it will be a very memorable moment for Evert as she returns to the French Open with her battle with cancer behind her.

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I have not been back to Paris since 2019. First of all, Covid came and there was a year where hardly anyone was able to go, and then I had cancer and went through chemotherapy. I was just happy to be doing video calls for Eurosport with Mats Wilander and Barbara Schett, and feeling like a part of the team, but it wasn’t exactly the same thing as actually being in Paris and feeling the atmosphere, seeing the red clay and the city, and really feeling the excitement and anticipation around Roland-Garros.

Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. I always enjoy going back to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Sacre Coeur, the landmarks that I used to go to when I was playing. Even though I have been to Paris many times, it always makes me feel alive and adventurous. Instead of feeling like I’m a Parisian, I think I’m lucky enough to still be able to come to this magnificent city and I feel privileged having played at this iconic tournament.

Roland-Garros is very special. All of France is fully engaged in watching this spectacle, this historical tournament. It is very much like Wimbledon in that respect. You can feel that even as a spectator. The crowds are really enthusiastic and know their tennis. I sometimes visualise myself out there feeling the butterflies and the adrenaline in my body, doing what was necessary to win. Today, the game is much different with the power and the athleticism, but the atmosphere is still the same as when I made my first appearance in Paris 50 years ago.

I played at Wimbledon in 1972, but 1973 was my first time on the European continent. I had been invited to play the French two years before, but my dad turned it down because he didn’t think I was ready. But as an 18-year-old, I was finally mature enough, and I was ready to travel. I had read about Paris and seen the city on TV, but until you get there, you don’t quite understand the history. The landmarks, the buildings, the restaurants, the museums… Paris is such a hectic and romantic city! I specifically remember one night, Philippe Chatrier, the president of the French Tennis Federation, took my mom and I to the Lido, a famous French Cabaret. I thought I was so grown up and sophisticated in seeing topless dancers!

As a competitor, I didn’t feel any expectations. The beauty of being a teenager was that the pressure was all on my opponents, who were in their 20s or 30s. I felt no pressure with the press because I didn’t know what they were writing about me – it was all in French! People could be talking about me or writing about me, but I was oblivious. So I walked around in my own little orbit and just did what I came to do, and that was to compete and play matches.

It was a pivotal and interesting time for women’s tennis. The WTA was soon to be founded. There was a lot of excitement in the air for women. Players were talking about equal opportunities and equal prize money. I was just listening to Billie Jean King and the other women and trying to soak it all up. I was a bit overwhelmed because I was so young. I was still going to a Catholic high school and I was living with my parents. They made the decisions about my tennis career and I didn’t really have any say. I trusted what was going on with the women’s movement, but I was overwhelmed. I grew up in an era where women were homemakers and moms, and men were the breadwinners. Few women had jobs in those days. It was a new and progressive concept to me, but I had respect for Billie Jean and the Original Nine and trusted they were making the right decisions.

My first Roland-Garros was my first Grand Slam final and I played against Margaret Court, who was 30 years old with 22 Grand Slam titles to her name at the time. It was one that I should have won. When I look back at my major titles, there are a couple of majors I should have won that I didn’t, and there are a couple of majors I shouldn’t have won that I did, so I think it all evens out.

Chris Evert from the USA during the 1973 French Open

Image credit: Getty Images

I was 5-3 up in the second set and served for the match. I don’t remember being tight or feeling nervous. I just remember that I just couldn’t get up for it. I couldn’t get psyched up for closing the match. I didn’t have enough experience in a major tournament final to close out the match. I was young and inexperienced in that respect. I had not won a Grand Slam title yet – that would come the next year in Paris in 1974.

However, I was still beating everybody in the world on clay at that time. My game was tailor-made for clay courts. My baseline game was consistent, my placement was accurate, and I had a lot of patience. Coming into that era, the early ‘70s, three of the four Grand Slams were on grass, so all of the women served and volleyed. Very few of them had good, solid groundstrokes. Their strategy on clay was still to come to the net and volley, and my strength was my passing shot. If they were at the baseline, I would outsteady them. It was a perfect time for a clay-court player to come into that era.

Paris ended up being the most successful place for me in my career. That is why it’s always special to come back to Paris, especially this year given what I have been through recently. I am very relieved and very appreciative that my 16-month period of battling cancer is over. I am still very vigilant in getting my check-ups and I have to get them every four months for the first few years, but I am ready to reboot and live my life again because it was on hold for pretty much 16 months.

Cancer really is an equaliser. You’re not omitted from this group of people who have cancer just because you’ve been successful or famous. We as athletes are used to being in control, especially with our bodies and our training. With cancer, you have no choice. You have an unexpected journey filled with doubts, fears and uncertainty.

Being a former athlete helped me to deal with all of this. The discipline, the fighting, being resilient and positive were qualities that I drew upon from my competitive days. You just know that you have to go through it to get to the other side.

Today I am cancer free. Of course, it could come back, but I have had all of my surgeries, and all of my chemotherapy treatments. I’m pretty much done, still healing, and working on getting stronger.

Legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova laugh as they pose for a photo about their long time rivarly

Image credit: Getty Images

Cancer changed my perspective on life. Tennis has given me so much: I’ve been a player, I’ve been a coach, I’ve been a commentator, I’ve been a leader in the tennis world, but your health is the most important thing. I’ve realised two things: first, I want to take care of myself the best I can. I’ve had many stages in my life: tennis and then raising my sons, but now it’s more spiritual. Cancer makes you reflect on your life, and when you’re going through something like this you realise the importance of coming to peace with yourself because you know what? You are all you have. You also realise how important it is to be of service to others. That makes me happy.

I have that platform of having experienced cancer, so I’m going to speak out because any time I can have a platform for good, I’m going to use it. It’s one thing to voice your opinion about certain things that are happening in the world, but when you experience something yourself it’s more genuine, it’s more authentic.

My message to get out there is so strong: I want to say to anybody who has any family history of cancer, find out about it! Get a genetic test! You have a better chance of finding it at an early stage. In my case, the hospital called to inform me that my sister Jeanne’s BRCA variant (a gene that increases your chance of having ovarian and breast cancer) was reclassified as cancerous and advised me to get my blood tested, which resulted in a BRCA positive diagnosis. I had surgery, immediately followed by chemotherapy, and because I caught it early, at stage one, I have a 93% chance of it not recurring. So basically, one blood test saved my life!

Martina Navratilova was one of the first people I told about my cancer, and I think I was one of the first people she told when she was diagnosed with cancer. It’s just ironic that both of us experienced that at the same time. We had tears over it and we visited each other. We text each other a lot and we have gotten closer as a result. I’m looking forward to seeing her in Paris as well.

Overall, I can’t wait to go to Roland-Garros and work with the Eurosport team. Being an American, I’d love to see Coco Gauff or Jessica Pegula do well and I think they’re in the top four, top five contenders for winning this tournament. Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalanka have had the best year so far on every surface and they could become the next rivalry in women’s tennis. I admit I would love to see that.

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Chris Evert will be a part of the Eurosport team covering all the action from Roland-Garros. Stream the French Open live on discovery+, the Eurosport app and at eurosport.com

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