THERE ARE NO CHEERING crowds and not a tennis court in sight. Still, Chris Evert is in ecstasy. Nestled among the plush cushions of her sofa in the living room of her spacious marble-and-granite home in Boca Raton, Fla., she is surrounded by nearly a hundred floral bouquets and dozens of presents, including a two-foot-tall teddy bear from Monica Seles, a tiny warm-up suit with football appliqués from Jimmy and Patti Connors, and a pint-size pair of golf shoes with cleats from Ray Floyd. But Chris, beaming contentedly, has eyes only for 5-week-old Alexander James Mill, her son, nursing in her arms.
"I know I'm biased, but he is cute, isn't he?" says Chris, 36. Shifting into her best maternal coo, she adds, "He has long arms, like his daddy, and long, thick hands. And Daddy comes in every morning and mousses your curls, doesn't he?"
Nearby, new papa Andy Mill, 38, smiles with pride. "Chrissie's the best mom," he says. "To see her love for this child at all hours of the day and night, to see how she holds him and cares for him and kisses him and loves him. It's just incredible. Suddenly, looking a bit second fiddle—ish, he asks playfully, "Who do you love more?" Chris laughs and says. "He needs me more now, but you'll get back up there."
Emotional—and physical—ups and downs have been been part of the Mills' routine since Chris felt her first contractions at 5:30 A.M. on Friday, Oct. 11, nine days after her due date. When she and Andy arrived at Fort Lauderdale's Broward General Medical Center about four hours later, she was in the early stages of labor. But it was not to be an easy birth. During the afternoon Chris was given the painkiller Demerol to help her relax. But by 10 that evening she had progressed only slightly, even with the help of Pitocin, a drug designed to speed up labor.
Feeling decidedly uncomfortable, Chris asked for an epidural, an injection into the spinal area that blocks feeling from the waist down. It gave her only partial relief. "But," she says, "within about two hours, I was almost fully dilated. Things were cooking."
Finally, at 1:30 Saturday morning, with contractions coming every 90 seconds, Chris was ready for the most intense phase of delivery—pushing her baby out. "I've never felt that kind of pain before," she recalls. "It was pretty excruciating." And it went on for three hours. That's when Chris Evert, center court's onetime Ice Maiden, lost her legendary cool and yelled at the labor nurse, "Pull it out!" No such luck.
By 4:30 A.M. the baby was far enough down the birth canal that, using a mirror, Chris could see the hair on his head. But then he moved no farther. When her obstetrician, Dr. J.C. Gilbert, noticed the baby's fecal matter in the amniotic fluid—potentially dangerous because it could cause lung damage if the baby aspirated it—he decided to do an emergency cesarean. "It was fine with me," says Chris. "I'd been through a lot."
With Andy at her side, she was wheeled into an operating room and given general anesthesia. The surgery took less than half an hour. "So many things go through your mind," says Andy, who was allowed to witness the operation. "You're thinking, 'They do this all the time,' but then you see your wife knocked out, her stomach cut open, her insides completely exposed. You know she's in good hands but you're thinking. 'Please God, don't let her die.' "
It wasn't until he was sure Chris was out of danger and being stitched up that Andy picked up his dark-haired, 8-lb. 6-oz., 22" long son, who was named after the little boy's grandfathers, Alexander Mill and James Evert. "It was overwhelming," recalls Andy, who cut the umbilical cord. "Here I had my son in my arms, he's crying, and it was like, 'Wow, this is pretty bizarre.' "
While Chris remained in the recovery room, Andy introduced Alex to his maternal grandparents, Colette and Jimmy—Chris's first coach—who, along with a handful of friends and family, had been in the room next to Chris's during her entire labor. An experienced grandmother of four, Colette had never before attended one of their births. She declared the experience "great" and her new grandson "adorable."
After about two hours, Chris was awake enough to return to her suite and meet her son for the first time. "I kind of looked over, half-drugged, and I saw him," she says. "Right away I knew he was okay and I thought, 'God, it's all been worth it.' "
Chris, of course, has always worked hard for her achievements—often prevailing through sheer tenacity. She burst onto the pro tennis scene in 1971 at the U.S. Open, a shy, ponytailed 16-year-old with the nerves of the Terminator. During the next 18 years she employed a two-fisted backhand and an unrelenting baseline game to win six U.S. Opens, seven French Opens, three Wimbledons and two Australian Opens. Her prize money, second among women only to that of her great rival and friend Martina Navratilova, amounted to just under $9 million. But her total earnings, counting her endorsements for Converse, Wilson and 10 other companies, are estimated to be triple that.
While her cool determination on the court made her a major sports figure and role model, Chris's love matches off-court kept gossips happy. Her 10-month engagement to Jimmy Connors in 1974 was followed by flings with Burt Reynolds and former pop singer Adam Faith. But not, she sniffs, with Geraldo Rivera, who strongly suggests otherwise in his recent tell-all book. Although Andy has implored her to speak out ("I want people to see that this guy is a joke and a jerk"), Chris just laughs. The way she sees it, there is nothing to say. "I haven't read what he said about me," she says, "but I've heard that he implies things. I think he didn't bluntly come out and say anything happened because it didn't."
In 1979 Chris married British tennis star John Lloyd. The union ended after nearly eight years, but Chris and John (he is remarried to Deborah Taylor-Bellman and the father of two) are now friends. Shortly after the split, Martina took Chris to a New Year's Eve party in Aspen, where she was introduced to Andy by mutual friends. A former downhill racer on the U.S. Ski Team—he placed sixth at the 1976 Olympics—Mill too was going through a divorce, from Robin Ridenour, a onetime sales rep for a sporting-goods firm. (The parting was not amicable, and the two haven't spoken since.)
Soon Chris and Andy found they had more than failed marriages in common. "There is nothing about him I don't like," she says. "I think we complement each other. I calm him down. He's helped me open up." They were wed in July 1988. The following year she retired. After almost two decades as a pro, it was a hard transition—and one Chris says she couldn't have made without Andy. "He gave me all kinds of confidence to begin a new life," she says. That included plans for a family. Chris wanted to forge ahead immediate!). but Andy proposed that they wait a bit. "I didn't want her to look back and think, 'I've been a professional athlete for so many years and a mom for so many years, and now I'm 50 and never had time for me or for us.' It's important to figure out who you are and what you like."
Pals like Mary Carillo, herself a former tennis pro turned TV commentator—and the mother of two young children—agreed. "I told her to enjoy her time and freedom," says Carillo. "I mean, when you start having kids your life becomes a sitcom."
During the next year she and Andy "settled down more," says Chris. "I wanted to establish some roots." They set up house in Boca Raton and Aspen, they traveled, and Andy introduced Chris to his favorite sports, hiking, fly-fishing, bicycling and motorcycle riding.
Finally, in late 1990, they determined the time was right to have a baby. It was no idle decision. "It's almost a calculated thing when you have two careers," says Chris, who, since her retirement, has done tennis commentary for NBC in addition to her endorsements. Andy, who quit the racing circuit in 1981 after a fall in which he fractured his neck, back and leg, is also a spokesperson for several companies, including Ray-Ban and Rossignol, and will serve as a color commentator for CBS during the Winter Olympics next February.
Says Andy, sounding as romantic as an air controller: "We figured we'd have a window of time in the fall of 1991, between the U.S. Open and the Olympics, that would be perfect for having a baby." Call it beginners' luck, but the plan succeeded. "We didn't have to work at it," boasts Chris. "First time."
Pregnancy, though, was another matter. "I had morning sickness every minute of the day for the first three months," says Chris. "I felt so sick some days I didn't get out of bed. The one good thing about it was that I had heard it meant the baby was healthy." That was confirmed in her fourth month when Chris had amniocentesis to check for genetic defects. She and Andy also learned they were having a son. "At first I was a little disappointed," admits Andy. "I'd love to have a little girl with a ponytail and a two-handed backhand to remind me of Chrissie. Then the more I thought about it, with my life—I'm always outside on motorcycles or fishing—a boy is going to be wonderful."
But there was another hurdle ahead. At the end of Chris's fourth month, her doctor discovered that Chris had a rare condition in which the layers of the amniotic sac surrounding the fetus are separated from each other, therein increasing the chance of a premature birth. The only treatment was bed rest. "That was the most emotional I was during the pregnancy," she says. "I prayed every day. It hit me that there was a chance, however small, that the baby might not make it."
She spent the next five weeks at home in Florida, having to pass up on-location broadcast assignments for NBC at the French Open and Wimbledon. She watched every minute of the U.S. Open, including Jimmy Connors's exhilarating performance as he battled his way into the semifinals. "I was so happy for him," she says of her former fiancé, now 39. "He deserves this last hurrah."
By then her condition had stabilized and worry had given way to excitement. It was contagious. Tennis pro Pam Shriver says that she and many other players were living vicariously through Chris's pregnancy. "I'd like eventually to have kids," says Shriver, "so I asked Chrissie lots of questions about how she felt, what was going on. She's made all of us think about where we are, what we're doing, those family issues."
During her last trimester Chris was allowed to resume regular activities, including workouts on a stationary bike, a Stairmaster and step classes, but no tennis. "I haven't played in six months," complained Chris toward the end of her pregnancy. "I can't run and sweat. That's what I really miss. I'm anxious to get back in the swing of things."
Alex, however, has rearranged her priorities. After five days in the hospital, the three Mills returned to their Boca Raton home, a spacious and airy structure decorated mostly in shades of white. Alex's room, which is white with a wallpaper trim in a boat, car and plane motif, includes the requisite crib, changing table and dresser, as well as three rocking chairs (two are kid-size) and a rocking horse. On a shelf is a framed photograph of President Bush—a friend and occasional tennis partner of Chris's since his vice presidential days—along with Mrs. Bush and Millie. It is inscribed: "To Alex Mill. May your life be full of 6-0 sets, downhill victories and lots of love and happiness. George Bush. Me, too. Barbara Bush."
The nursery is on the opposite side of the house from Chris and Andy's bedroom, but Alex hasn't slept there yet. Instead he dozes in a white eyelet bassinet next to his parents' bed. For the first two weeks, nurse Nina Esposito helped out. Since then the Mills have handled the parenting on their own, with an occasional assist from their housekeeper, Josette Schmoll.
Chris, very much the new mom, is still at the point where she finds the 3 A.M. feedings exciting. "You feel like he needs you," she says. "Maybe that won't last forever, but I don't want to leave him for a minute. He's my little buddy, not someone to escape from to have your own life."
Andy agrees. Although he admits that before Alex came, "I took a long, hard look at whether I really wanted to have children," he now says, "Its beyond words what he means to me. I have everything I ever wanted in life." There are no definite plans for another baby, but, says Andy, "if we like children as much as we think we're going to, we probably will."
Although they have yet to disagree about child rearing, Andy predicts that time will come. "Chrissie is very cautious," he says. "I'm going to want to take Alex skiing between my legs, to put him in a backpack and give him a ride on my Harley. I don't know how she'll like that."
One thing Chris is sure she wants to do is be a friend to Alex, something she often missed as a child. "It's important to hear your kids out, to just talk to them and give them the security that no matter what they do, they can come to us and we'll be fair," she says. "It wasn't only my parents who didn't do that, but that whole generation. They didn't have help. They had a lot of kids, and they didn't have time to sit down and chat with them."
While Chris has made no effort to get back into shape—"I have to get psyched up even for a walk," she says—thanks to nursing, she has already shed all of the 30 lbs. she gained during pregnancy. "I love breast-feeding," she says. "Just whip off your bra. My only problem is that I have too much milk. My shirts are forever soaked."
And she certainly has no intention of returning to tennis. "I did it all," says Chris. "There's nothing more I could achieve. Anyway," she adds, "the great high of winning Wimbledon lasts for about a week. You do go down in the record books, but you don't have anything tangible to hold on to. But having a baby—there just isn't any comparison."
MEG GRANT in Boca Raton