Extract from The Rivals by Johnette Howard

“For the thirteenth time, Evert and Navratilova were about to meet for a Grand Slam title. For all but a brief portion of their rivalry, either Evert or Navratilova had been number one in the world. But as they began unzipping their racket bags to prepare to play, Navratilova remained the prohibitive favorite. Evert had not beaten Navratilova in a major in two and a half years – not even at the French Open, a tournament that Evert once ruled as imperiously as Navratilova now did the grass courts of Wimbledon.”

“Over the next three hours, everything that their rivalry had ever revealed about Navratilova and Evert as athletes, as people, as friends, was about to be reprised on the floor of Roland Garros.
Even on television, their grunts of exertion were audible. So were the sandpapery sounds their sneakers made as they slid into their shots on the clay. When it was through, Navratilova came around to Evert’s side of the net to sling an arm around her. And Evert held on to Navratilova’s hand just an instant longer when their arm-in-arm walk off the court ended at the umpire’s chair, then turned away so Navratilova couldn’t see her shoving away a few tears.

The match they play was dazzling – not for its perfection, necessarily, but more for the stomach-gnawing tension, and the stirring determination they displayed. Later, piercing the details back together was hard for both of them. The emotions were that lingered. There had been so many gasp-inducing shots and disasters avoided by each of them, so many narrow escapes and cliffhanger moments in which one of them gouged out a service break or won a couple of games in a row, and then, as if disoriented by the sudden lightness and shedding of pressure, the distracting thought of victory, each of them would give back a game or two. They’d inexplicably plow a makeable shot into the net, and stand there, staring, as if to say, ‘How in the world did I do that?’
And the drama would begin all over again…

Navratilova would shriek at her mistakes now and then as if she wanted to shatter every champagne flute on the grounds of Roland Garros. Once or twice Evert directed a burning stare at a linesman whom she suspected of missing a close call. She kicked the ball into the net once when it disobeyed her. Her own errors sent her eyebrows slamming down hard in irritation. Then the right side of her mouth would tick up ever so slightly into a scowl.

Navratilova was, as usual, breathtaking. The way her racket finished high above her shoulder on some strokes, she looked like a musketeer slicing up the air. Evert, as always, seemed lost in concentration, her movements precise, her timing pure, the path of her strokes perfectly grooved. She seized the first set from Navratilova, 6-3. She had Navratilova down 2-4, 15-40 in the second set too, then couldn’t apply the sleeper hold. Navratilova slithered free and held serve. Then she broke Evert’s serve. Evert served for match at 6-5 in the second, but again Navratilova pulled out the service break she absolutely had to have and forced a tiebreaker, which she also won to stay alive.
And the drama began all over again..

The last two games that Navratilova and Evert played were a blur of inspired shots, each more pressure-packed and spine-tingling than the last. Evert held for a 6-5 lead, but only after surviving a 0-40 deficit and four break points in the longest game of the match.
With Navratilova serving now at 5-6, Evert got to match point and lofted a tantalizing lob over Navratilova’s head, and Navratilova turned and gave chase, only to see the ball parachute down just inches long.
Befitting all that happened in the 2h40 they had already played, the last point of the match was unforgettable. Navratilova sent a serve sizzling down the center line of the court, and Evert hit a backhand return. Navratilova answered with a forehand reply and Evert tried a crosscourt backhand. Navratilova slammed another forehand down the middle that pushed Evert a perilous six feet behind the baseline. When Evert hit back a short reply, Navratilova came rushing in to pounce on the ball.

Evert looked doomed – especially when Navratilova smashed a backhand toward the left corner of the court and took the net. But Evert not only made it to the ball, she lunged and jackknifed forwad, slid her feet into perfect position one last time, and somehow sent a two-fisted backhand winner from the left corner down the left alley on a low hard line. Navratilova’s head snapped around just in time to watch as the ball slammed down just in.

The final score was 6-3 6-7 7-5 for Evert. Navratilova hadn’t lost the match. She’d forced Evert to win it.

“We brought out the best in each other,” Navratilova said

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Jimmy Connors wins his 109th and final professional singles title, defeating n°181-ranked Gilad Bloom 2-6 6-2 6-1 in the final of the ATP Tour event in Tel Aviv.
The 109 professional singles titles for Connors is the most of any male player in tennis history and dates back to 1972 when he wins his first title at London’s Queen’s Club tournament.
Ivan Lendl eventually wins 94 pro singles titles in his career that ends in 1994 for second place on the all-time list, followed by John McEnroe with 77 singles titles.

The only players to win more titles than Connors are Martina Navratilova with 167 singles titles and Chris Evert with 154.

Jimmy Connors, US Open 1991

Chris Evert plays her final match as a professional, defeating Conchita Martinez 6-3 6-2 to help the United States to a 3-0 victory over Spain in the final of the Federation Cup in Tokyo.

Chris Evert:

If this is it, I think I’m going out on the highest note possible. I came here thinking this is my last tournament scheduled for this year, and maybe forever, and what better note could there be to end it on, playing on a great team for my country.

Martina Navratilova:

I think all of us really wanted to win it for Chris, but she won it for herself, too. She won all her matches so she played a huge part in it. It was great to be on the team with her.

Austin wins the match, and Navratilova wins the heart

Excerpts of The 100 greatest days in New York sports by Stuart Miller

“At Wimbledon, the French and Australian Opens, there can be no final set tiebreaker, but at the US Open it’s do-or-die. And in 1981 Tracy Austin and Martina Navratilova squared off in the first final set tiebreaker.

Austin had won the Open at 16 in 1979, but in 1981 she’d been sidelined by sciatic nerve injuries. Navratilova had won Wimbledon twice and the Australian Open in 1981 but was still an erratic, emotionally vulnerable player.
She’d been an American citizen that summer, endured tabloid stories about her sexuality, finally subdued rival and top seed Chris Evert in the semis, and was desperately eager to win.

Navratilova seemed to have the trophy in her grip after grabbing the first set 6-1. But Austin, noted for her steely determination and concentration, began grinding away. Navratilova’s aggressiveness and gambling proved her undoing as she blew several break points with unforced errors – she’d make 43 to Austin 17 by day end.
Austin snuck off with the second set 7-6, 7-4 in the tiebreaker.
The third set was equally tight. Down 6-5, Navratilova committed 8 unforced errors and double faulted twice, but saved 3 match points to force another tiebreak. Then Austin showed her greatness, switching suddenly from hitting short to Navratilova’s backhand to slamming balls deep to her fierce forehand. This bold move rattled Navratilova, who fell behind 6-1, then double faulted.”


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Excerpts of The 100 greatest days in New York sports by Stuart Miller

“She turned head because she was a pretty, young thing, but she captivated everyone because of her gutsy play and icy determination.
Chris Evert was not the first teen prodigy, but in an era filled with veterans like Billie Jean King and Margaret Court, along with one-handed backhands, serve and volley tactics, and uncertainty about the viability of the women’s tour, Evert revolutionized the women’s game.

On September 4, 1971, in her first Open at Forest Hills, this 16 years old perky blonde with a 12 tournaments, 44 match winning streak landed on the stadium court for her second round match against fourth seed Mary Ann Eisel.
Her wins had largely been against lesser lights or on clay, which favored her relentless baseline game. But on grass against one of the surface’s top players, she was unable to simply grind down her opponent. And so, Evert, an amateur who had taken 2 weeks off from high school in Fort Lauderdale for this tournament, seemed headed for home.

She lost a close first set 6-4 and trailed 6-5 in the second when Eisel stockpiled 3 match points. As television announcers Bud Collins and Jack Kramer gave her a warm ‘nice try kid’ sendoff, Evert suddenly showed Forest Hills and a national television audience that she had the makings of a champion.
On Eisel’s first effort, Evert set the tone, whistling a big backhand service return down the line. Then on a second serve, Evert mashed a crosscourt forehand passing shot. Evert easily captured the tiebreaker then crushed her demoralized foe 6-1 in the third set.

King who’d come over to watch the rookie, was impressed by how she handled the pressure, saying later:

A star was born in my eyes that match


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