All sports are aided by a great rivalry. Think the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels. These foes are often thought of as different sides of the same coin — the total inverse of the other, both pushing each other to achieve their best.
Women’s tennis is no different. One of the greatest rivalries in that sport took place throughout much of the ’70s and ’80s. Two women’s tennis players who will be linked forever are Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. So why is it that those two still have the preeminent rivalry in tennis history?
Martina Navratilova and Chris careers
According to CNN.com, Navratilova has 18 Grand Slam event titles, 31 Grand Slam doubles event titles, as well as 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles event titles. No one in the Open era can match her record of nine Wimbledon championships — she even won six in a row. Sports Illustrated named her one of their “Top 40 Athletes of All Time.”
Evert was also an accomplished player. She’s unmatched in the Open era when it comes to winning percentage, winning 90% of her matches. She was the number one ranked player in the world for seven years out of her career. She won 157 singles titles with 18 of those being Grand Slams. She reached at least the semis in 52 of the 56 Grand Slam events she appeared in.
Navratilova vs. Evert: the rivalry, and why it’s still the best
Navratilova and Evert are still, to this day, two of the best to ever play women’s tennis. The fact that their careers intersected was a blessing for tennis fans. They got to see two of the best of all time regularly going head to head. Only Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer can match their rivalry in terms of intensity and excellence.
According to SportsKeeda, a poll of tennis fans found that Navratilova/Evert still ranks as the top tennis rivalry of all time, beating even the classic matchup of Nadal and Federer. If you want evidence as to why that’s the case, just look at the numbers.
For 12 years after the start of WTA rankings, either Navratilova or Evert was number one overall in nearly every ranking, save for 23 weeks. From 1975 to 1988, the two faced off in 22 Grand Slam finals. From an overall head-to-head standpoint, Navratilova had a slight edge over Evert, 43 to 37.
What Navratilova and Evert thought (and think) about the rivalry
In an Oprah.com piece on the duo, both weighed in on their views of their historic rivalry. Despite their intense competitiveness, they both got along swimmingly off the court. Navratilova said that the winner would often comfort the loser after a defeat:
“What’s weird about tennis is you’re both in the locker room before the match and after the match, and one is very happy and one is very sad… But we would put our arms around each other and say, ‘You know what, I was lucky,’ or, ‘Next time you’re going to get it, I’m sure’, and, ‘Are you okay?’ Or we would leave notes in each other’s racket bags for later.”
As for Evert, she humbly credited Navratilova as being the better athlete:
“The mental side was my strength, and I wasn’t the tremendous athlete that a Martina was or Steffi Graf…Those women could be Olympic athletes in anything that they tried.”
It’s amazing to think the two could have so many hard-fought battles on the court and remain friends off it, but against all odds, they have. It’s a testament to their class and sportsmanship.