Evert health warning over 'sunburnt' eyes

Chris Evert's 17-year career chasing the sun on the professional tennis circuit brought her 18 Grand Slam singles titles, made her a multi-millionaire and has left her with damaged eyes.

"And I'm not alone," Evert says in the current edition of Florida Tennis, urging today's competitors to avoid making the mistake of playing without protecting their eyes against ultraviolet radiation.

The 45-year-old blonde American, idolised by generations of players who copied her baseline style, has pterygiums, cataract-like growths in both eyes, from looking at the sun. "This problem is the nasty little secret tour players don't talk about much," Evert said. "But lots of them suffer from moderate to serious eye damage. I'm fortunate that mine haven't moved over my pupils. That would obscure my vision and require surgical removal."

Evert retired from playing in 1989, having won three Wimbledon singles titles along with two at the Australian Open, six at the United States Open and a record seven at the French Open. She was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and her whole family is involved in tennis. Her father, Jimmy, retired in 1997 from coaching at the local Holiday Park, where he instructed his five children, Drew, Chris, Jeanne, John and Clare. Her mother, Colette, is a club player.

"Thirty years ago, when I started playing, we didn't have the technology to make this problem avoidable," Evert said. "Then, if you wanted to be visually sharp, you couldn't wear sunglasses. They were just too dark to see the ball well. Now we can have it both ways. There are sunglasses on the market that allow you to have total UV protection and excellent performance on court."

Players now have the choice of wearing glasses or contact lenses which enhance the eye's ability to see optic yellow objects, the colour of most tennis balls, while muting the other colours and blocking 90 per cent of UV rays. At the recent Ericsson Open, in Key Biscayne, Florida, Wesley Jessen, in partnership with Bollé, introduced their latest product, available in both corrective and non-corrective lenses. "The tour has finally gotten the message about hats," Evert said. "That took long enough. Next must be eye protection, but without sacrificing performance. There is no more important improvement you can make in your game than to protect your eyes. They're your windows on court and you can't replace them."

Evert, formerly married to the British tennis player John Lloyd, has three sons by her second husband, Andy Mill, an American former Olympic skier. She oversees the Evert Tennis Academy, in Boca Raton, Florida, and does television commentary. In 1989 she founded Chris Evert Charities, which has raised more than $10m (£6.5m) to fight drug abuse and to assist neglected, drugexposed and abused children.