The 18-time Slam winner gave an exclusive interview in Indianapolis. (Photos by Lora Olive)

Chris Evert owns some literally warm memories of her times spent in Indianapolis over the years.

In an exclusive interview last week at Indy’s Meridian Hills Country Club, she recalled the soupy heat when the city hosted the US Clay Court Championships during the pinnacle of her career in the 1970s and ’80s. That came on her favored surface, one that helped her garner many of her 157 career titles overall but also seven Roland Garros singles crowns, her most at any major among 18 singles Slams overall.

“It just gives you more time,” she said affectionately of the clay between times wielding a racquet on this mid-September Saturday. Beyond Paris, Evert also claimed six titles in Indy, where the event, which migrated a few times over the decades, closed for good after a classic 1986 final, Steffi Graf’s 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 defeat of Gabriela Sabatini.

In Indy for charity hits to benefit the Julian Center – a nonprofit organization assisting children, women and men affected by domestic violence, stalking and the like – Evert gamely played some fairly light to highly competitive points with patrons who gave to the cause. In more ways than one, and mic’ed up during her time on court, she truly put on a clinic.

She also got introspective about her own fortunate lot: “I feel like I lived a privileged life, and I think a lot of people don’t have that luxury. I’m all about giving people a second chance in life, whether it’s drug addiction, whatever it is. It could be my child, it could be my parent, it could be my neighbor – and it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter how rich, what color your skin is, it’s still a real problem, an epidemic, going on in this country. So if I can help south Florida [via her own Chris Evert Charities] in creating money for different centers and help, then I’m all for it. And the Julian Center’s the same way. It’s all about helping people who have had a rough time at it.” 

Whether it is Roger Federer and Serena Williams building schools in Africa or Indy’s own Rajeev Ram activating opportunities for student-athletes in his home state of Indiana, Evert sees the need for players to give back to the world outside of themselves. “The beauty is that in my day, players waited until after they retired to have a foundation because then they could put more days into it,” she said. “But nowadays, the players are feeling the responsibility and having a conscience about doing it while they’re playing. And so if they want to give 10 days a year to their foundation, they have 10 days off and that’s what they’re doing.” 

The sheer wealth associated with tennis provides one avenue for players to make such decisions in the postmodern game, Evert noted, and in light of the $3.8 million that Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic nabbed as 2018 US Open singles champs: “The money’s humongous now. In our day, it wasn’t as big as it is now, but these players are making millions and millions of dollars. It’s really a responsibility for them, and they should be doing it. Nobody should pat us on the back for doing this. It’s a responsibility that we should be doing it.”

She speaks truth, as she’s known to do. Consider this: Virginia Wade, the 1968 US Open women’s singles champ, famously said that she earned less prize money in winning that title than what today’s first-round losers make in the same tournament.

In Indy, Evert spoke to not only the cause that catalyzed her return, and the local heat and humidity, but also to the meteorological and human-emotional patterns that took hold of the 2018 US Open in New York. This year in Queens, the extreme-heat rule came into play for dozens of matches of all disciplines, ages and abilities.

That’s not to mention the heat that a trio of chair umpires took during the event, including, most infamously, Carlos Ramos, who oversaw the women’s singles championship in which Serena Williams received three code violations for coaching and then racquet and verbal abuses.

“It was an unfortunate kind of scenario,” Evert said. “It was like the perfect storm, and it escalated and escalated. And I think that Serena could’ve been a better sport about it, and I also think the umpire could’ve – since it was the finals of a Grand Slam – maybe given a few concessions, like lean over and say a soft warning like, ‘I’m going to take a game away from you if you continue this verbal abuse.'”

Evert continued: “Everybody was at fault – and even the rules, the rules are so gray about coaching on court. It took away a little bit from Naomi, but at the end of the day she was the better player, and she was beating Serena at her own game, so it’s her name on the trophy.” 

“I think they should probably open it up to coaching in the stands, in the player box. I don’t think a coach should come down and talk. But if they want to give signals or say ‘serve to the forehand’ or whatever, I think that’s fine. I just don’t think the other way would work, if you are really stringent, black and white, and say, ‘You’re going to get penalized for coaching.’ Somebody could just be rubbing their ear – and that’s a sign. I think there’s coaching anyway, so why not just open it up?”

Time will tell, and likely within the 2019 season. Meanwhile, Chris Evert will keep at what she does best: entertaining all comers with her rapier wit and raising funds to resource the places and orgs that help people across the country.

Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9