American legend and Canadian newcomer turn up the heat for Singapore’s WTA Championships season finale coup.
EVERGREEN Chris Evert is a legend in women’s tennis. Budding Eugenie Bouchard is a promising new star.
Late last month though, all their charm on court and impressive achievements were put aside temporarily when the 18 Grand Slam winner Evert and reigning Australian Open semi-finalist Bouchard battled off the court – by whipping up their own bowls of Singapore’s most loved dessert – the ice kacang.
American Evert was generous with the sweet corn as she piled it up on her shaved ice mountain – mixed with coloured syrups and condensed milk.
Meanwhile, Canadian Bouchard just dumped it all in her bowl – the red beans, attap chee (palm seeds), lengkong (grass jelly) and cendol (green jelly) – to come out with the sweetest dessert.
It was a picture of perfect fun enjoyed by two beautiful ladies at the “Satay at San Marina Bay” food court.
But their appearance in Singapore was more than just to show who was better in mixing the local flavoured ice kacang.
The duo, who have graced the tennis court from completely different eras, were in Singapore to help launch the WTA Championships, the Women’s Tennis Association’s prestigious season finale.
In partnership with Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Sports Council (SSC), the WTA Championships will be held at the newly-built state-of-the-art facility Singapore Sports Hub on Oct 17-26. It marks the first time in the history of the championships that a city in Asia-Pacific will host the prestigious event.
The two tennis stars were involved in a couple of talks, but probably the most inspiring moment of the visit was when they met 100 local students from local schools and colleges at the Art Science Museum.
In a lively, fun and no-holds-barred session, Evert and Bouchard shared tips and their extraordinary experiences as professionals, which left many of the wide-eyed tennis star wannabes inspired, enthralled and dazzled.
When asked whether it was her first trip to Singapore, Evert, who is now a coach, commentator and mentor, broke the ice with an answer that drew much laughter.
“I have been here once – maybe 25 years ago. I played against Martina (Navratilova) in an exhibition match.
“You children have no idea who I am, right?” she quipped.
It was a funny statement, but rather an important one for Evert – as most of the children in the audience were not even born when she dominated the game in the 1970s and 1980s. The 59-year-old Evert won a total of 154 singles titles, which is the second most in WTA history and she spent 260 weeks at the No. 1 spot, and she is a 18-time Grand Slam champion along with Navratilova (only Steffi Graf has more Open Era Slam titles with 22).
The Florida-born Evert won at least one Grand Slam per year for 13 years (1974-1986); reached the semi-finals 52 times in 56 Grand Slams to underline her consistency; and one of the 10 women in history to complete a career Grand Slam, doing so at the 1982 Australian Open.
She however, stayed relevant with the kids.
“Now, you should know this pretty lady beside me ... Eugenie. She is from your era,” said a smiling Evert while introducing the 19-year-old Bouchard, who made a sensational breakthrough by reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open last month before bowing out to eventual champion Li Na of China.
The slim and slender Bouchard with striking complexion was only the second Canadian after 30 years to reach the semi-finals (Australian Open). The 2013 Newcomer of the Year is now dubbed as the future star.
“At this age, her maturity in the game is unbelievable. When I commentated about her last year, I said that she is the future. Now, I think, she is present, she has arrived,” said Evert.
Evert added that the recent rise of many young players has sparked up the women’s world tennis game. “Eugenie, Sloane (Stephens), Madison (Keys) are players below 20 and then, we have those in their mid 20s like Maria (Sharapova), Ana (Ivanovic), Samantha (Stosur). There are those in their early 30s like Li Na and Serena Williams,” she said.
“Li Na was the great winner of the Australian Open. Her win is great for Asia and now, thanks to her, Asia is growing to be an epicentre for tennis. Players from three different generations and from all part of the world are keeping the competition so keen.
“It is hard to predict the winners now and I am loving it. Imagine when the top eight battles it out at the WTA Championships – every match in every round will be like a final.”
Evert, who is the ambassador for WTA and runs an academy for juniors in Florida, said that she had great respect for the tennis players of this era as the sport has evolved so much.
“How tennis has changed! When I was playing long, long time ago, Billie Jean King inspired me. We played using wooden racquets – anyone of you have played with it before?” she asked as the audience chuckled.
“It was a different training style. We used to be happy with three hours of training, but now it is more about power, athleticism and it is brutal. The girls work as hard as the men and they throw in eight hours of training.
“They watch what they eat, they play two on one ... it is just unbelievable. It is so physically demanding.
“As such, the risk of getting injured is high. Just look at the many, who suffered injuries at the recent Australian Open. Staying healthy and taking care of oneself is so important to prolong one’s tennis career nowadays.”
Both Evert and Eugenie however, were as straightforward as their famous two-handed backhand returns, when they were asked on what it took to become professionals and how to stay motivated even when the going gets tough.
“Playing tennis is like life. You work, work and work. You can lose, but you pick yourself up and go on the next day, and set new goals,” said Evert.
“I was just an ordinary girl when I embraced the sport. If you look at me, I was not the biggest, I was neither the strongest nor the quickest, but I made it happen. I wanted it badly. I was hungry for it and I put all the work in it. If I can achieve it, anyone else can.
“Billie Jean is remembered for being the one to fight for equality in prize money for men and women. Those days, the women used to get 10% of what the men were getting. That was not fair. Li Na is now making her stand in China, where players do not get to take the whole prize money,” said Evert.
For Bouchard, the way to move forward is about having short memories – whether one plays good or bad.
“I was happy to make the Australia Open semi-finals, but at the same time, it was disappointing to lose. But the defeat is quickly forgotten,” said Bouchard.
“It is good to have a short memory when one plays bad or loses because negative thoughts can be disruptive. If you fall now, there is always a chance next week or the week after. It is like life, there are always chances to do better and improve,” she added.
“There is so much pressure when you start playing better. People expect you to win. I will try not to worry about what people say. I cannot control that. I put pressure on myself because I expect a lot from myself.”
Bouchard is a tough cookie on court indeed. But a question by a young Singaporean school boy on how she looks so good while playing however, made her blush.
“Thank you. I’m sweaty and all. But during the game, I’m all focused. But I do like to wear different outfits and try to be fashionable. It is fun and I just love it,” said the World No. 19.
If Bouchard can maintain her performances throughout this year, expect her to return to Singapore in her best outfits as one of the eight stars battling for the honours in the season finale WTA Championships in October.
And if Evert is right, it is going to be a darn good show in Singapore.