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April 10, 1982: the day Chris Evert lost on clay for the third time in nine years

Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 1982 to witness how, in the semi-finals of the Family Circle Cup, 17-year-old Andrea Jaeger gave the great Chris Evert her only third clay-court loss since 1973

What happened exactly

On this day, April 10, 1982, at the Family Circle Cup, at Hilton Head, young Andrea Jaeger eliminated the world No 1 Chris Evert (6-1, 1-6, 6-2). She was only the third player in nine years to beat the great Evert on clay, along with Tracy Austin and Hana Mandlikova. Since 1973, “Chrissie” had won no fewer than 199 matches on her favourite surface and set an amazing record of 125 consecutive wins. 

The players involved: Andrea Jaeger and Chris Evert

  • New teenage sensation Andrea Jaeger

Andrea Jaeger, born in 1965, was the new American prodigy. She claimed her first WTA title in Las Vegas in January 1980, before even turning 15 (defeating Barbara Potter in the final, 7-6, 4-6, 6-1). The same year, she reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon (lost to Chris Evert, 6-1, 6-1) and at the US Open, she made her way to the semi-finals (defeated by Hana Mandlikova, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6). In September, she clinched the biggest title of her young career, taking a revenge against Mandlikova (7-5, 4-6, 6-3) in the final of the Buick Riviera Classic, in Las Vegas. She continued to improve in 1981, reaching the semi-finals at Roland-Garros (defeated by Sylvia Hanika, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4) and climbing as high as world No 2. 

  • Clay-court queen Chris Evert

Chris Evert was born in 1954 in Florida. Coached by her father, she developed a game based on 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 remarkable result at the age of 16, reaching the semi-finals at the US Open (defeated by world No 1 Billie Jean King, 6-3, 6-2). In 1973, at the age of 18, she finished runner-up at both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, beaten by the two best players in the world, King and Margaret Court. In 1974, she eventually claimed her first and second Grand Slam titles, prevailing against Olga Morozova in both the Roland-Garros and the Wimbledon finals. 

Chris Evert in 1974

Evert finished the year as world No 2, winning no less than 16 tournaments, and gaining media exposure – wanted or otherwise – by starting a romance with Jimmy Connors. In 1975, she continued her winning streak on clay, triumphing at the French Open for the second time, defeating her future biggest rival in the final, Martina Navratilova (2-6, 6-2, 6-1). Evert also won the US Open, which was played on clay for the first time (defeating Evonne Goolagong in the final, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2). The American became the first world No 1 of the newly established WTA rankings, and she held that spot without an interruption until 1979. In 1982, although her dominance was challenged by Navratilova and Tracy Austin, she had accumulated 12 Grand Slam titles and reached at least the semi-finals of every major tournament she played since 1971. Evert was almost unbeatable on clay, and she completed a winning streak of 125 matches on red dirt, between 1973 and 1979. In April 1982, she was world No 1, having reclaimed the spot from Tracy Austin in November 1980.

The place: Family Circle Cup, Hilton Head

The Family Circle Cup, held in Hilton Head, was a prestigious tournament played on American clay (also known as har-tru). Established in 1973, it was one of Chris Evert’s favourite tournaments, and she had triumphed there six times already.

Chris Evert with Billie Jean King in 1971

The facts

When Andrea Jaeger faced Chris Evert in the semi-finals of the 1982 Family Circle Cup, at Hilton Head, it seemed very unlikely that she would be able to defeat the clay court queen. Evert’s statistics on her favourite surface were simply outstanding. A four-time Roland-Garros champion (in only six appearances), she had achieved an unbelievable 125-win streak from between 1975 and 1979, and since 1973, she had won no less than 199 clay-court matches, meeting defeat only twice. She had accumulated more than 40 out of her 108 titles on dirt, and she was the defending champion at Hilton Head, where she had already triumphed six times. On top of that, she led 6-1 in her head-to-head against Jaeger, and although the youngster had won their last showdown on the Tour (in Oakland, on carpet, 7-6, 6-4), she gave her a serious beating in an exhibition event in Palm Beach less than one week ago (6-3, 6-1). The two women had a similar game style, relying mostly on great consistency, and apart from Tracy Austin, no one had ever been able to challenge Evert from the baseline.

However, Jaeger didn’t share the general opinion and she strongly believed in her chances. She engaged in long rallies and finally manage to break Evert’s legendary patience. In the end, the underdog prevailed in three sets (6-1, 1-6, 6-2). She was only the third player to beat the world No 1 on clay since 1975, after Tracy Austin (Rome, 1979) and Hana Mandlikova (Roland-Garros, 1981). 

In the following press conference, the clay-court legend appeared bitter and didn’t really praise her opponent’s game.

“It’s very annoying to play her,” she said, according to sportswriter Randy Walker. “I guess I wasn’t willing to stay out there all day and moonball back.”

What next

Despite having defeated such a clay-court terror in the semi-finals, Andrea Jaeger would be defeated in the final by Martina Navratilova (6-4, 6-2).

She would defeat Evert on her favourite surface a second time in 1982, in  Roland-Garros semi-finals (6-3, 6-1), but once again, Navratilova would prevent her from lifting the trophy (7-6, 6-1). She would claim a total of 10 titles, and she would finish runner-up at at Wimbledon in 1983, defeated by the same Navratilova (6-0, 6-3). Unfortunately, a shoulder injury would force her to retire as early as 1985, at the age of 20.

Evert would lose the top spot to Navratilova once in May 1982, and she would only occupy it sporadically until 1985. May 1982. She would have spent a total amount of 260 weeks as world No 1. In total, Evert would win 154 titles before the end of her career, in 1989, including 18 Grand Slam crowns. 

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