October 9, 1989: The day Chris Evert played her last professional match
Every day, Tennis Majors looks back to one of the biggest moments in tennis history. Today, we go back to October 9, 1989, the day Chris Evert defeated Conchita Martinez 6-3, 6-2 in the Fed Cup final to end her Hall of Fame career on a winning note
What exactly happened on that day?
On this day, October 9 in 1989, tennis legend Chris Evert played and won her last match as a professional player, in the Fed Cup final 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 go on to win the final, and Evert’s career, which had already been incredibly successful, ended on a high note.
The players involved: Chris Evert and Conchita Martinez
- Chris Evert: The Ice Maiden who became one of tennis’ greatest legends
Chris Evert was born in 1954 in Florida, United States. Coached by her father, Evert 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 when they did take the net.
She obtained her first breakthrough 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 that followed was more than just impressive. In her career, Evert reached the final four in 52 of the 56 Grand Slam tournaments she entered. 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 skipped the French Open on three occasions (1976-1978) at a time when she was unbeatable on the surface – she piled up a winning streak of 125 matches on clay between 1973 and 1979.
Having claimed a total of 154 singles titles, Evert finished as world No 1 in seven years (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 understandable that in 1989, “the Ice Maiden”, now aged 34, was getting tired, and that staying three years without a Grand Slam title was a sign that the time to retire had come. In fact, she announced as early as July of that season that this was going to be her last year and that she would quit professional tennis after the Fed Cup in October.
- Conchita Martinez: the rising Spanish player on the WTA Tour
Conchita Martinez was born in 1972. The Spaniard turned pro in 1988 and that same year, she claimed her first title in Sofia, defeating Barbara Paulus in the final (6-1, 6-2). In 1989, she reached the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros, where she was defeated by Steffi Graf (6-0, 6-4). Martinez added three more titles to her list of achievements, the most important one in Tampa, Florida where she beat world No 3 Gabriela Sabatini in the final (6-3, 6-2). By October that year, the Spaniard aged only 17, was already ranked No 12 in the world.
The venue: Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo, Japan
In 1989, the Fed Cup was still held under its original format, with 40 teams competing during one week in one location. That 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.
The facts: Chris Evert wins and then second guesses about her retirement decision
At the 1989 Fed Cup in Tokyo, the American team was watched closer than ever by the crowds as well as the media. The United States team was one of the favourites to claim the title, with two legends – Martina Navratilova (world No 2) and Chris Evert (world No 4), and two more standout players as back-up for the doubles, Zina Garrison (world No 5) and Pam Shriver (world No 9).
On top of that, Evert had already announced that this was going to be her last appearance as a professional player.
This star-studded American team cruised into the Fed Cup final, 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 AM to play the final match of her long and successful career against 17-year old Martinez. Understandably, “Chrissie” felt a bit nervous as she later wrote in a diary published in World Tennis Magazine. “I start to get uptight, but I finally convince myself not to worry, enjoy the competition, and work hard for one more match.”,
Eventually, 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,” she said as per World Tennis Magazine.
The seven-time Roland-Garros champion did not show any emotion on court after match point. “That’s because all had been sealed at the US Open, a month earlier”, 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 quarter-final against Zina [Garrison], I wasn’t motivated. That’s why I decided to retire.”
What’s next? Navratilova seals 13th Fed Cup title for the United States
In the second match, Martina Navratilova would defeat Arantxa Sanchez (0-6, 6-3, 6-4), sealing the 13th Fed Cup title for the United States. Despite her second thoughts in the locker room, Evert would stick to her retirement decision, and her last match would remain a victory.
She would be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1995. 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 a leading tennis commentator for television.