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Chris Evert on Her U.S. Open Picks, Tennis Bracelets and Pickleball

The story behind how tennis legend Chris Evert inadvertently became associated with coining a fashion category — the tennis bracelet — is well documented, but there’s irony in how long it took before she really made something of it.

Evert had been known for her stylish attire on the court, always wearing a thin diamond bracelet, when during a match at the U.S. Open her bracelet fell off, play stopped, and fans curiously watched as Evert searched until finding it. The incident became a big media story and thus the tennis bracelet was born.

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“Forty-five years later I’m very lucky to integrate this with a collaboration with Monica and Rod,” said Evert, referring to jewelry designer Monica Rich Kosann and her husband, Rod, who co-own the Monica Rich Kosann fine jewelry brand.

On Thursday, Evert held court at the Wilson store in the Shops at Columbus Circle in Manhattan to introduce the second drop of The Tennis Bracelet — CE Collection, her collaboration with Monica Rich Kosann.

“Chris knew our brand and was a fan, so she approached us,” said Rod Kosann, explaining how the collaboration came about. He also said that Evert wanted to work with an American designer, and that “our message of female empowerment resonated with her.”

The new collection consists of nine styles in 18-karat gold and sterling silver with diamonds and precious gemstones. Prices range from $985 to $25,000. Fifty percent of the sales of a pink sapphire bracelet will benefit the Prevent Cancer Foundation and its cancer research.

From the Chris Evert tennis bracelet collection in conjunction with Monica Rich Kosann.
From the Chris Evert tennis bracelet collection in conjunction with Monica Rich Kosann.

Also, an autographed Wilson Pro Staff graphite tennis racquet, designed by Evert and Wilson with Evert’s Grand Slam victories listed around the frame, is being auctioned on CharityBuzz to raise money for the foundation. Evert, who through her tennis career played with Wilson Pro Staff racquets, last year overcame a bout with ovarian cancer, which took the life of her sister two years before.

Alongside her friend and tennis great/women’s advocate Billie Jean King, Evert talked to WWD about the collection and other subjects, amid the cacophony of the crowd of about 100 that included pro tennis players Maria Sakkari from Greece, Australia’s Ajla Tomljanović, and from the Ukraine, Marta Kostyuk.

“I love the emeralds and what they signify — the green court I played on when I started at the U.S. Open,” said Evert of the jewelry.

“That’s because you used to play on grass,” injected King. “Chris started playing on grass when she was 16. Now the courts are blue because they’re hard court.”

There’s further symbolism in the design of the jewelry. “I also love the fact that every bracelet in the collection has this teardrop diamond which represents sweat,” Evert said. More specifically, she added, the teardrop diamonds represent the droplets of perspiration running down her face when she bent over to recover her bracelet at that 1978 match.

The Tennis Bracelet – CE Collection.
The Tennis Bracelet – CE Collection.

“What I love about these pieces is the quality of the design and the fact that there’s different pricing,” depending on the style. “I love the narrative behind this whole endeavor. It just makes this product very unique and very authentic in the sense that this is really the real tennis bracelet.”

For the U.S. Open, which officially starts Monday, Evert does commentary on ESPN. It’s a rigorous schedule. “It’s a 12-hour day. We are ‘first ball hit, last ball hit.’ The matches start at 11 and end sometimes at 12 midnight. There are so many matches. We do bits and pieces of a lot of them,” during the initial elimination rounds. “We try to focus on the American players because it’s the U.S. Open.”

Nevertheless, when asked who she’s picking to win the tournament, Evert said, “I wouldn’t pick an American on the men’s side. I’m rooting for Djokovic. He’s a champion and it will be a record as well,” meaning it would be his 24th Gram Slam victory, surpassing Serena Williams, who has 23, and tying Margaret Court, who won 24.

“On the women’s side, I’m going out on a little bit of a limb. I’m picking Coco.” That’s Coco Gauff, the 19-year-old American. “Even though she’s behind the favorite, Iga Swiatek,” from Poland. “I think Coco is ready. She has a new coach, Brad Gilbert. She actually hasn’t changed her form yet. Brad told her, stand back a foot or two to return a serve, so she’s not getting crowded and has time to make contact.”

Within tennis circles, some believe Evert would have been closer to or held the women’s Grand Slam tournament record if her schedule were different when she was playing. She did win 18 Grand Slams.

“I didn’t play all of them every year because in our day it was more important to create a tour for the women and support the tour week in and week out. So it’s those Grand Slam numbers that everybody loves. Everybody loves numbers. Nobody’s looking at the win-loss records, the head-to-head matches. I have the best win-loss record, which is 90 percent. It’s the one record that I have today. You know just how many years you played and what was your quality of play. What everybody looks at now is those four tournaments,” meaning Wimbledon and the French, Australian and U.S. Opens.

Everybody is also looking at pickleball and how it’s become all the rage. For Evert, it’s not in conflict with tennis. “I personally love it. I played it a couple of times, though I prefer tennis. But I think it’s good for older people who don’t want to run around a big tennis court. The scale is in your hands. It’s not in your legs. You don’t have to move that much. But you still have to have skill in your hands. And it’s social.” But do you consider it exercise? “Oh yes, very much so. The more active you are, the better. Seventy, 80-year old men, they’re playing.”

Asked what to especially watch out for at this year’s U.S. Open, Evert suggested the spotlight is on what Gauff could accomplish; there will also be a lot of attention showered on King.

“My face is every place. There is a poster made by a famous artist, Camilla Pinheiro. You will see my poster all over the tennis center,” which is named after her, said King. “This is the 50th anniversary of equal prize money” for women and men, a cause that she spearheaded. Fifty years ago, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) was founded at a meeting of players organized by King on June 21, 1973, the eve of Wimbledon, to begin the fight for equal pay for women in tennis and the end of sexism.

As far as doing commentary on the matches, “I don’t want to do television anymore,” said King. “It’s for the younger generation. They asked me but I have a million other things.”

Ajla Tomljanovic, Marta Kostyuk, Maria Sakkari, Chris Evert
Ajla Tomljanović, Marta Kostyuk, Maria Sakkari, Chris Evert.

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