Serena Williams's injured foot, John McEnroe's foot in the mouth and the return of the king, Roger Federer, to the US Open at Flushing Meadows have dominated most of the tennis talk recently. Away from the spotlight, two of the sport's greatest champions walked the red carpet at a theatre in New York for the screening of an ESPN documentary, fittingly titled Unmatched.
It is the story of the rivalry and friendship between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and it brings forth the close relationship between the two. The sight of them together, both now 53 years old, transported aficionados back in time. It was 37 years ago that they met on a tennis court for the first time, at a tournament in Akron, Ohio. That was the start of one of the most compelling rivalries in sports; titanic clashes that brought a new audience to the game and took women's tennis from adolescence to where it stands today,
From 1973 to 1988, Navratilova and Evert played 80 times, 60 of them in finals. Bjorn Borg and McEnroe played 14 matches against each other during their epic rivalry; Rafael Nadal and Federer have faced each other 20 times. The Navratilova-Evert numbers led Bud Collins, the tennis commentator, to bill it as the "The Rivalry of the Century." "No doubt it is," Navratilova said at the screening. "The longevity. You got quality and quantity. Most of the time we were No 1 and No 2. It was one of a kind. It's hard to duplicate that. There never will be another Chris and Martina show. There never was another like it and there never will be another."
Evert agreed. "The beauty of our rivalry was not only we met so many times, but the contrast," she said. "We were night and day, so different in every way and brought our own set of fans to the mix. It was drama." In 16 years of on-court competition, Navratilova and Evert met 40 times in the first eight years, with Evert having a 27-13 record. They played another 40 times in the next eight years and Navratilova had a 30-10 advantage, to finish 43-37 overall.
They traded the No 1 ranking 17 times and one or the other finished the season ranked No 1 for 12 consecutive years between 1975 and 1986. During one five-year stretch in the 1980s, they shared 18 of the 20 grand slam titles. "No two competitors have ever competed against each other as much as Chris and Martina. It will never happen again," said Mary Carillo, a famed sports analyst. "Which two boxers, which two anybodys are ever going to play each other 80 times over 16 years with such high quality stuff?"