Extract from The Rivals by Johnette Howard:

“The last time Evert and Navratilova played was similar to their first encounter in Akron. There was no fanfare, no fuss. On a cold night in Chicago – Jimmy Evert’s childhood hometown – Navratilova defeated Evert 6-2 6-2, and they shook hands afterward, same as always.
The date was November 14, 1988. They had no way of knowing that by the luck of the draw, they’d never oppose each other the entire last year of Evert’s career.

The ledger on their rivalry froze at eighty matches, sixty of them finals, with Navratilova leading forty three victories to Evert’s thirty seven.

“For sixteen years we were left alone on Sundays in that locker room. All in all, I think we handled it pretty damn well. ” Chris Evert

Extract from The Rivals by Johnette Howard:

“By the late-August start of the 1983 US Open, Navratilova had won all five of her 1983 encounters with Evert, and eight of their last nine matches overall. The US Open still loomed as the last major title Navratilova had never won despite ten previous tries. If Navratilova was going to finally win the tournament, it seemed only fitting that she found herself having to go through evert for the championship. As the two of them padded around the otherwise deserted dressing room the day of their final, staking out their own corners and quietly preparing themselves to play, they both knew they were at a crossroads.

Navratilova and Evert were about to play the thirty-ninth final of their decade-long rivalry, and their record now stood at perfect equipoise: a 19-19 deadlock in championship matches. After so many years spent chasing Evert, Navratilova would finally, inarguably nudge ahead with a win. It would be the last accomplishment Navratilova needed to signify that she had finally conquered herself as well as Evert.
As Navratilova waited to take the court, her legs began to shake. Her hands were trembling. She told Mike Estep:

The time is now. It’s now or never.

Navratilova took the first set from Evert so quickly, a skywriting plane that was droning high over the stadium was unable to finish writing “Good luck Chrissie” until three games were already done in the second set.
Nothing hindered Navratilova – not the 93 degree heat, not her pre-match nerves, not her awful history at the Open. She overwhelmed Evert 6-1 6-3, in just 63 minutes. She celebrated match point as if a jolt went through her body. She flung both her arms in the air. Her eyelids snapped up like two window blinds that had been rugged down and let go. Her mouth opened wide and she screamed.

If I don’t win another tournament in my life, at least I can say I did it all.

Navratilova’s performance was so complete, there was little Evert could do beyond affectionately tap Navratilova on the head with her racket and smile when they shook hands at net, same as she had done the first time Navratilova finally won Wimbledon five years earlier.”

Extract from The Rivals by Johnette Howard:

“Evert and Navratilova played the first of their eighty career matches in Akron, Ohio, to no fanfare. It was March 22, 1973, and Navratilova – who was merely hoping to make Evert remember her name – lost the first-round encounter 7-6 6-3 before a few hundred people.

It wasn’t until two years later in their sixth match, a 1975 quarterfinal in Washington DC, that Navratilova beat Evert for the first time. Navratilova was so thrilled, she didn’t sleep at all that night.

It wasn’t until 1976 and their seventeenth meeting – after Navratilova had dropped weight and improved her game – that Evert, by now Navratilova’s friend and sometime doubles partner, publicly betrayed her first scintilla of concern. Navratilova had just beaten her in Houston for the first time ever in a final.

“If she keeps this up, she could be pretty good.” Chris Evert

Martina Navratilova, Australian Open 1981

Extract from The Rivals by Johnette Howard:

“The first three majors of 1981 had been divided among Hana Mandlikova, Evert and Austin. Navratilova‘s Grand Slam title drought, meanwhile, had extended to twenty-eight months.

Yet as Navratilova and Evert walked out onto the court at Kooyong Stadium in Melbourne for the 1981 Australian Open final, Evert felt that “Martina had the momentum” – an odd remark considering that Evert hadn’t dropped a set. But Evert noticed that Navratilova had begun to display a fiercer edge, a more resilient confidence during her tournament run.

At times Evert felt sure she had struck unreachable shots – “Against anyone else they would’ve been winners” Evert said – only to see Martina somehow run down the ball or snare it at full stretch and crack back a volley winner.
“She would be on top of the net so quickly I would have to hit a perfect passing shot”, Evert said.
aEvert was magnificently up to the challenge. In the brillantly played first set, Evert and Navratilova were even at 5-5, then 6-6, then 4-all in the tiebreaker before Evert captured three set points to win it. Evert inched away to a 4-3 lead in the second set too. But Navratilova produced her best game of the match to hold at 4-all. Then Navratilova allowed only two points in the next two games, and the seesawing match was level at a set apiece.

Navratilova, seemingly exhilarated by her comeback, bolted off to a 5-1 lead in the final set, only to see something stir in Evert that was beyond fear and closer to self-loathing. It was that same stomach-turning thought that often drove Evert: the galling idea of having to make nice at the net with her overjoyed opponent after a loss. In that instant, the details faded and Evert quit thinking about how Navratilova’s net-smothering play had demanded almost impossible precision from her. Like Navratilova, Evert began playing on row emotion now.
“At that point you are so mad, you just find yourself going for your shots more subbornly”, Evert said. “My shots were hitting the lines. I was connecting with the ball as well as I could have.”

For the next six or seven games, she and Navratilova were like two fighters deep into a fifteen-round bout, weary but willing. Evert stormed back to 5-all. The tension was thick. Each rally had now become a test of nerve. Yet again, Evert didn’t feel safe. When Evert searched Navratilova’s body language or eyes right then for any familiar hint of tightness, none was there.

In this, their forty-fourth confrontation, Navratilova was suddenly an opponent Evert did not quite know. “Martina didn’t panic”, Evert said.
Evert was serving now at 5-5. With the score knotted at 30-all, Evert blasted a forehand long to give Navratilova a potentially decisive break point. Hoping to surprise Navratilova, Evert rushed the net first – only to end up in an eyeball-to-eyeball exhange of volleys that Navratilova won.

For the third time now, Navratilova began a new game serving for the match. Evert struck one last passing shot – long – and her shoulders sagged.

Navratilova had won the Australian Open 6-7 6-4 7-5. Her career total of major titles had finally ticked up to three.”

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