A separate peace

In all of women’s tennis, there’s never been a star quite like Chris Evert. But what drove her to the top also drove three marriages off a cliff – and brought Evert to the brink of despair. Now she wants everyone to know what happened so her hard-won truth can help all the women who still long for a happy ending.

The “Ice Maiden” suffered panic attacks. The world traveler was terrified of flying. America’s Sweetheart felt her marriage slipping away, very publicly fell in love with one of her husband’s closest friends, then realized – after the divorce and remarriage – that she had made a big, big mistake. Then came another divorce, her third. That’s when one of international sports’ most enduring icons of grace under pressure, grit, perseverance, and determination basically fell apart. She wept. She saw a shrink. She took antidepressants. She wept some more. Things got so bad that for six months, it was all she could do to crawl out of bed in the morning, make her three teenaged boys breakfast, and get them off to school before crawling back into bed with a movie to spend the afternoon until they returned home.

That’s when Christine Marie Evert realized that all the fame, money, success, and adulation in the world didn’t make her happy. That it never had. That’s when Little Miss Perfect (she was the rare athletic superstar who inspired multiple nicknames – “Remorseless” among them) figured out that holding things in, always pushing forward, ignoring difficulty, and focusing solely on the moment – the emotional building blocks of her professional greatness, essentially – had also brought her close to personal ruination. She says she’s delighted to have learned her lesson.

“I know it’s a cliché,” she says, “but my whole thing this past year was, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Now I know what that means.”

The events leading up to Evert’s semipublic scandal are painfully well known. Married to Olympic downhill skier Andy Mill for 18 years, with three children, she fell in love with Mill’s friend, golfer Greg (“The Great White Shark”) Norman. Norman’s ex-wife has said that Evert pursued the golfer. Evert’s ex-husband has said that Norman chased the tennis player. In any case, Evert left her husband, Norman left his wife of 25 years, and as tongues wagged and scolds tsk-tsked, the high-profile couple embarked on a glamorous, sun-kissed courtship. He sat with her at the U. S. Open; she caddied for him. They were married on Paradise Island, in the Bahamas, in June 2008.

Fifteen months later, they separated, then divorced. Some said it was a case of two big egos refusing to compromise. Some said Norman was more interested in being famous than in being a husband. Others said Chrissie couldn’t stand a lesser athlete than herself getting more attention (Norman’s golf career had a brief, remarkable resurgence shortly after he hooked up with the retired tennis player). Evert didn’t say much. But now she wants to.

“Was there passion? Yes. Was there love? Sure, uh, yes – but we had two big worlds. Honestly, we had different priorities. I want roots – I want to be with my kids, live in a nice, comfortable house, and be able to do my work. One of us would have had to give up a big part of our life.

“I don’t want this to be a slam on Greg, but our lifestyles were different. My priority was my kids. His priority was to build his business and travel.”

Since the split, Norman has remarried. So has Andy Mill.

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A separate peace