The idea of a season-ender on clay – which Rafael Nadal has long championed as part of his vision for the ATP World Tour Finals to alternate between hard court, red dirt and grass – is not without precedent. It seems like an eternity ago now, but the first two editions of the WTA Finals were in fact held on clay. Both were won by a certain Chris Evert, the greatest female clay-courter of her period, if not of all time.
When the year-end championship was played on clay
Did you know that the season-ending tournament has been played on clay before? It wasn't a one-off, either: it happened twice, in 1972 and 1973 to be precise. These were the first two editions of the WTA Finals, established a couple of years after the ATP had rolled out the Masters Grand Prix, as it was known back in the day. Held in Boca Raton, Florida, from 7 to 15 October 1972, the inaugural WTA year-end championship took place on American Har-Tru clay and brought together a 16-player field headed by Billie Jean King.
"I’m eager not only to become a pro, but to get out of school!"
Yet, despite going into the event on the strength of having done a Small Slam (Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open), King – like everyone else – would find herself blown away by a figure who represented the future of women's tennis. A rising star whose official status as an amateur – she was still a minor at the time as she did not turn 18 until 21 December – was belied by the maturity of her surgically precise game, which was devastatingly effective on clay.
So it was that Chris Evert burst into the big time with a bang, cruising to her first premier title without so much as surrendering a set, including notably beating King in the semis (6-4, 6-2) and overcoming Kerry Melville in the final (7-5, 6-4). "I’m eager not only to become a pro, but to get out of school!", she said.
125 consecutive wins on clay!
A year later, when Evert retained her crown in Boca Raton, it could no longer be described as a surprise. The preceding spring, she had contested her first Grand Slam final at Roland-Garros and gone agonisingly close – two points, to be exact – to dethroning the great Margaret Court and tasting glory at her first attempt. Nevertheless, when she defeated Nancy Richey 6-3, 6-3 to triumph in the season-ender, it was already her 19th title – at the tender age of 19 – and her 13th on clay.
Naturally, no one in their right mind would have predicted that she would go on to put together a staggering streak of 125 straight victories on the dirt, but by that point it was crystal clear that Chrissie was going to be a smash hit in Paris for some time to come.