Ever since she first took to the court, Chris Evert has been a trailblazer. After turning pro in 1972, Evert won the French Open, her first Grand Slam singles title, two years later and then went on to win a total of 18 singles Grand Slams amidst a 17-year career with a staggering 1309–146 win-loss record.
Since retiring in 1989, Evert has also stayed at the forefront of tennis. She’s not only the founder of the Evert Tennis Academy, which trains both talented high schools students and full-time professional level players, but she is also publisher of the popular Tennis magazine.
Yet, ever since leaving the game as a player, Evert has fused her love of the game’s nuts and bolts with her keen, technical eye, to become as one of the game’s best commentators. Once again, you can hear Evert on ESPN for the 141st edition of the US Open, which began August 30.
Evert concedes that since becoming a color analyst her tennis left-brain has kicked in. During our conversation over the phone Friday, she said that she’s been talking much more about match metrics and stats in predicting outcomes in each round of play.
“I’m not by any means a “techy” person,” Evert admits. “But it started at Wimbledon, (during) which I’ve started to wrap my head around the game in a different fashion.” Evert says that having the IBM Watson Power Rankings and Match Insights integrated into the ESPN broadcast interface has been a help and huge enhancement to reporting the game. “I found myself talking more about Watson’s ratings and different players’ momentum during live matches.”
New this year at the US Open is IBM’s Power Rankings with Watson, which is an AI-powered system designed to provide real-time, dynamic rankings of players by their latest performance. Fans can keep themselves informed up to the minute by bringing up the US Open app, USOpen.org, or through the ESPN tournament broadcast.
“It’s there to inform the fans and keep them not just entertained but to get them more involved in matches.”
Evert adds that the technologies help paint a real picture of who is best player from one day to the next, and who is coming alive within the tournament.
“Normal rankings happen over 52 weeks, but that doesn’t always reflect who’s best at the time. The Power Rankings unveil the momentum players are having” Evert said, “as well as who’s hot, who’s trending upward, all while taking injuries and everything else into consideration.”
Evert points out that while “big names” such as world No. 1 Ash Barty of Australia, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and No. 3 Naomi Osaka of Japan, may have a leg up, she says that there are a whole new set of WTA stars to keep tabs on.
Among the others to watch are 2019 Wimbledon champ Simona Halep (No. 10) and 2017 Wimbledon winner Garbiñe Muguruza (No. 9), as well as Czech star Karolina Pliskova (No. 4).
This year’s US Open also has its heat seekers too, including Sloane Stephens and Danielle Collins (No. 29), both American players. Stephens, who entered the US Open ranked No. 66 by the WTA, is on a tear, after beating higher-ranked Madison Keys and Coco Gauff, this week.
Evert also said Friday that tennis fans should prepare themselves to see more tectonic change.
“You’ve seen three scenarios in women’s tennis. You’ve seen great rivalries, you’ve seen the dominance of Serena Williams, and now you are seeing the whole field open with everything up for grabs.”
“Serena was so dominant for so long, and everyone always picked her to win every Grand Slam. Now that she’s drifting more toward a retirement phase after getting injured and so on, you have a situation in which any one of 20 women could very well win the next Grand Slam.”
Halep, Osaka, Sabalenka, Collins and Stephens all advanced to the next round since Tuesday, while world No. 6 Sofia Kenin withdrew prior to the the first round due to a Covid diagnosis. American Jen Brady (No. 14) is out due to an injury. The US Open’s final matches conclude September 12.
Evert concludes that another thing making tennis more fun to watch is its diversity, and a wider variety of top players from so many different places.
“What’s exciting is that other countries outside the U.S. are producing more and more tennis champions. You look at Sabalenka, Osaka and Ash Barty, those are the dominant ones,” Evert said. “But there are so many other good players, you’ll have different women winning and keeping up the competition.”