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Chris Evert © Reuters

US is outpaced internationally - Evert

Legendary women's tennis champion Chris Evert said on Tuesday that US professional tennis "skipped a generation" when it failed to produce players to follow on the success of Andy Roddick and Serena Williams.

It's been 10 years since a US man won a Grand Slam singles title, and Williams, while still ranked No 1, is 31 and not winning as consistently as she once did.

Evert, who spoke at the National Press Club, said there has been a fundamental shift since she was on the tour.

"It's become a much more international sport," said Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles in her career, which peaked in the 1970s.

Forty years ago when she was on her way to a record seven French Open and six US Open victories, there were players from about 10 countries on the tour. Now there are players from up to 200 countries.

Only a handful of them are Americans. The top US male is world number 18 Sam Querrey, and after Williams, the No 2 US woman is Sloane Stephens, ranked 17th in the world. While Williams won two Grand Slam titles last year, no US male has won a Grand Slam singles title since Roddick won the US Open in 2003.

Evert said there are now players from many small countries where tennis is one of the top sports and is well-funded and in some cases considered a ticket out of poverty.

And they are typically "hungry," she said.

But she mentioned a few new US players on the rise, citing Stephens and current world number 68 Bethanie Mattek-Sands as female players to watch.

"I've seen a lot of players who are 18-to-21 who are making their move," said the 58-year-old Evert, who runs Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Florida. "There's been a real turnover."

On the controversy over grunting, Evert said there wasn't much that could be done other than teach younger players not to.

"All we can do now is let these players grunt," she said. It would be futile for a player to ask the referee for a hindrance because the practice has been allowed for so long.

A player known for her calm, polite demeanor, Evert declined to comment on a memoir recently published by her one-time fiancee and fellow professional Jimmy Connors. In it Connors hints that Evert, then 19, got pregnant and had an abortion shortly before they were supposed to tie the knot in 1974.

In a statement reported Saturday by the New York Daily News, however, she said she was "extremely disappointed" that Connors used his book to "misrepresent a private matter that took place 40 years ago and made it public without my knowledge."

Evert said the reaction to NBA veteran Jason Collins, who recently became the first male athlete in a major US professional sport league to come out as openly homosexual, "has been great and I would expect it to be great."

The world today is much more open-minded and compassionate toward people who are different than it was in her era, she said, noting that it has been known for decades that two of her rivals, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, are lesbians.

"When Martina and Billie Jean came out earlier, it still was tabu, basically, to be gay. It was not talked about," she said. "We are now much more free in our thinking."

She also said King deserves credit for pushing for equity in prize money. Women players at all the Grand Slam tournaments now receive the same amount of money as the men "right down to the first round," Evert said.

Prize money in fact has become so high that Williams' prize for winning Wimbledon last year - 1.15 million pounds (1.78 million dollars) - was about what King made in her entire career.


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