NEWPORT, R.I. -- With George Bush doing the presenting, Chris Evert was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame yesterday.
Playing off one of his old phrases, the former president said Evert was not a kinder, gentler tennis player. Indeed, dismissing such notions may be her greatest legacy.
"People are always asking me how I'd like to be remembered," Evert said at the conclusion of her acceptance speech. "If I helped at all, I think it was with the notion of it being OK for a woman to be athletic, to be competitive, to be tough, to be determined. Those attributes have always been acceptable for men, but it's only in the last 20 years or so that it was OK for women to have those qualities, too.
"Also, I'd like to tell little girls all over the world to pursue your dreams. I wasn't blessed with the greatest talent or physical prowess, but look at me now. You can do anything if you put your mind to it."
Evert, 40, won 157 professional singles titles, including 18 Grand Slams. She won seven French Opens, six U.S. Opens, three Wimbledons and two Australian Opens.
"I don't miss the pressure," Evert said. "It's not the best thing and it begins playing tricks with you. But I miss playing great tennis."
During her 18-year career, she was never ranked lower than fourth in the world.
Evert won 125 consecutive matches on clay from August 1973 to May 1979, when she lost to Tracy Austin in the Italian Open semifinals. Evert also reached the semifinals in 52 of the 56 Grand Slams in which she played.
"Chris Evert has no idea what a powerfully positive influence she has had on tennis players all over the world," said Pam Shriver, a Hall of Fame vice president and a longtime friend and rival of Evert's.
Shriver was the first of three speakers. Bush came second. Evert's acceptance speech last.
"Woody Allen was right. Ninety percent of life is showing up," Bush said. "Pam called me and said she could wedge me into this event, and I jumped at the chance because I love tennis and, like America, I love Chris Evert."
Bush and Evert have been friends more than 10 years. During that time, Evert made numerous visits to the White House, to Camp David and to the Bush summer residence in Kennebunkport, Maine. Evert had lunch with Bush the day before he was inaugurated as the 41st president. Evert was playing tennis with Bush when the Persian Gulf war broke out.
Likewise, Bush has often found his way to Boca Raton, Fla., to support Evert's annual pro-celebrity charity tournament.
"As president, when I played golf, people gave me long putts," Bush said. "And when I threw up a lob on the tennis court, they hit a kinder, gentler return. But Chrissy Evert never understood that."
Bush said his tennis matches with and against Evert were always peppered with a competitive spirit -- a spirit generated by Evert.
"I present to you Chris Evert," Bush said, "fierce competitor. Wonderful woman. Loving mother. Class act. Great competitor."
After the ceremony, Evert and Bush took on Shriver and Evert's husband, Andy Mill, in a doubles match on one of the field courts.
The competitive fire remains. The Evert team won.