- 08 Oct 2020
On this day, October 9, 1989, tennis legend Chris Evert played and won her last match as a professional player, in the final of the Fed Cup in Tokyo. Her last victim was 17-year old Conchita Martinez, from Spain, who couldn’t match the baseline skills of “the Ice Maiden” and was outclassed 6-3, 6-2. The United States would win the final, and Evert’s career, which had already been full of success, ended on a high note.
The players involved
Chris Evert was born in 1954 in Florida. Coached by her father, she developed a game based on her consistency, keeping her opponents away from the net with her deep groundstrokes, and punishing them with great passing shots if they were to take the net carelessly.
She obtained her first standout result at the age of 16, reaching the semi-final at the US Open (defeated by world No 1, Billie Jean King, 6-3, 6-2). The list of her achievements in the 19 years to come was more than impressive. In her career, Evert reached the final four in 52 Grand Slam tournaments out of the 56 she attended. She played in 34 major finals, claiming 18 Grand Slam crowns: Roland-Garros (1974, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1986), Wimbledon (1974, 1976, 1981), the US Open (1975-1978, 1980, 1982), and the Australian Open (1982, 1984). She only competed six times in Melbourne, and she skipped the French Open three times (1976-1978) at a time when she was unbeatable on the surface — she maintained a winning streak of 125 matches on clay between 1973 and 1979.
Having claimed a total of 154 single titles, Evert finished as world No 1 in seven seasons (1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981), and from 1972 onward until the end of her career, she never left the top 4. With these amazing records, it is understable that, in 1989, “the Ice Maiden”, now aged 34, was getting tired, and that staying three years without a major crown was a sign that the time to retire had come. In fact, she announced as early as July that 1989 was going to be her last year and that she would quit professional tennis after the Fed Cup, in October.
Conchita Martinez was born in 1972. The Spaniard turned pro in 1988, and claimed her first title the same year, in Sofia, defeating Barbara Paulus in the final (6-1, 6-2). In 1989, she reached the quarterfinals at Roland-Garros, defeated by Steffi Graf (6-0, 6-4), and she added three more titles to her list of achievements, the most important one in Tampa, where she beat world No 3 Gabriela Sabatini in the final (6-3, 6-2). By October that year, Martinez, only aged 17, was already world No 12.
In 1989, the Fed Cup was still held under its original format, with 40 teams competing during one week in one location. This year, the competition took place in Tokyo, at the Ariake Tennis Park, where the main court, the Coliseum, had a capacity of 10,000 spectators.
At the 1989 Fed Cup in Tokyo, the American team was watched closer than ever by the crowds as well as the journalists. The United States one of the favourite teams to claim the title, with two legends like Martina Navratilova (world No 2) and Chris Evert (world No 4), and two great players as back-up for the doubles, Zina Garrison (world No 5) and Pam Shriver (world No 9).
On top of that, Evert, “the Ice Maiden”, had already announced that this was going to be her last appearance as a professional player.
This star-studded American team cruised into the final of the Fed Cup, defeating Greece, Denmark, Austria and Czechoslovakia, with only Navratilova dropping one set in the semi-finals, against Helena Sukova (4-6, 6-1, 6-4).
On Monday, October 9, 1989, Evert woke up at 5:30 to play the last match of her long and successful career. Her opponent was 17-year old Conchita Martinez, world No 12, and “Chrissie” felt a bit nervous. “I start to get uptight, but I finally convince myself not to worry, enjoy the competition, and work hard for one more match.”, she wrote in a diary published in World Tennis Magazine.
In the end, Evert played a very solid match to clinch the first point in this Fed Cup final, 6-3, 6-2. Actually, her performance was so great that, in the locker room, she almost second-guessed her decision of retiring.
“I’m having a hard time dealing with the finality of it all and still find myself questioning my decision to retire. When I think of how well I played this week and the adrenaline flowing and the highs of winning, it’s hard to think of retiring. But then I force myself to remember the hard work, intense concentration, sore body, total commitment and disheartening losses. Retirement is all at once very calming.” (World Tennis Magazine)
The seven-time Roland-Garros champion didn’t show any emotion on court after the match point. “That’s because all had been sealed at the US Open, a month later”, she would say, in 2020, in an interview to L’Equipe . “It was my last major tournament, in my country and my city of New York. That’s where I felt the crowd around me. (…)When I came to play the quarterfinals against Zina [Garrison], I wasn’t motivated. That’s why I decided to retire.”
In the second match, Martina Navratilova would defeat Arantxa Sanchez (0-6, 6-3, 6-4), sealing the 13th success of the United States in the Fed Cup. Despite her second thoughts in the locker room, Chris Evert would stick to her decision, and her last match would remain a victory.
After her career, Evert would run a tennis academy in Florida, along with her brother, and contribute to Tennis World Magazine. She would also become an ESPN commentator for Grand Slam tournaments.
Conchita Martinez would climb as high as world No 2, in 1995. She would triumph at Wimbledon in 1994, and she would reach the final at both the Australian Open (1998) and Roland-Garros (2000). In total, she would hold 46 WTA titles when she retired in 2006.
- Also read: October 8, 1989: The day Courier claimed his maiden title
- Also read: October 7, 1999: The day McEnroe created Davis Cup controversy
- Also read: October 6, 1986: The day Cash clashed with Gilbert
- Also read: October 5, 2006: The day Becker and Novak clocked up record-breaking finish
- Also read: October 4, 1994: The day Hingis stepped on to world stage