CANCUN, Mexico — In the sunny paradise of Cancun, two tennis legends, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, reminisced about their storied rivalry turned unbreakable friendship. Evert couldn’t recall their first meeting, as she was engrossed in a game of backgammon. Navratilova, on the other hand, vividly remembered the encounter as she passed by Evert, who had no idea who she was.
It was 1973 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Navratilova was participating in her first-career tournament, the USLTA tour. She wasn’t allowed to play the Virginia Slim Tour, which she longed for, due to federation restrictions. Qualifying for the main draw, Navratilova walked past Evert, whom she had read about in World Tennis Magazine years before.
Little did they know that this chance encounter would ignite a fierce rivalry between them, propelling women’s tennis to new heights. The Evert-Navratilova rivalry was legendary, with 80 epic matches, 60 of which were in tournament finals, etching their legacies in history.
But amidst their intense battles on the court, a deep bond formed. Evert revealed that their friendship truly blossomed when they realized they were part of something greater than themselves. The massive crowds, the electrifying atmosphere – it was a shared experience that brought them closer.
As their careers concluded, the ferocity of competition transformed into an unwavering friendship. In 2022, Evert was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and one of her first calls was to Navratilova. Similarly, in December of the same year, Navratilova received her own cancer diagnosis. They found solace in each other’s company, even in the battles against cancer.
Tennis is an individual sport, but rivalries fuel its excitement. From the ATP’s Big Three to the captivating showdowns between the Williams sisters and Serena vs. Maria, rivalries elevate the sport. For Evert and Navratilova, they credit each other for unlocking new levels in their games and pushing the limits of their physicality. They constantly challenged and inspired one another, blazing trails in women’s tennis.
Navratilova believes that new rivalries are already emerging among the current generation of players. Rising stars like Elena Rybakina, Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek, and Aryna Sabalenka are making their mark, supported by other formidable competitors like Jessica Pegula and Maria Sakkari. The structure of the women’s tour ensures more frequent encounters between these players, setting the stage for new rivalries.
Evert reminisces how their contrasting styles and personalities intensified their rivalry. Navratilova wore her emotions on her sleeve during matches, while Evert maintained a composed demeanor. Their divergent backgrounds, with Navratilova coming from a communist nation and Evert growing up in the United States, further captivated the public’s attention. They attracted fans from all walks of life, turning their matches into must-see spectacles.
“We brought more eyeballs to the TV and to sports pages, and I think that was great,” Evert expressed. “I’m a big fan of rivalries.”
Jessica Roberts serves up the latest in the world of tennis. With a love for the racket sport, she reports on tennis matches, player rankings, and Grand Slam events, ensuring readers stay informed about the tennis world.