Former US Open champs Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert reflect on their great rivalry and friendship
Chris Evert We’ve been through so much history, so many layers of emotions. We were such opposites, it enabled us to get closer. She has my back; I have hers. I think people forget that we were left alone in the locker room every Sunday after we played final matches, and one of us would be crying and the other would be comforting—nobody saw that.
Martina Navratilova You always had to guard yourself because you didn’t want to be too destroyed when you lost or too gloating when you won, because you didn’t want to upset the other person. Now we don’t have to guard anything.
Martina, Chris has said you’re a softie and called you a kitten. So what’s Chris?
Martina She’s a cougar. Not in the way they talk about it now, but in that she’s very protective of her friends and family. It’s funny—she’s opened up, and I’m not nearly as open as I once was about my life.
Chris I let it all out now.
Chris, you’ve said that you couldn’t believe it when Martina would cry on the court, but were you also a little envious?
Chris Part of me admired that she could just let it out for the whole world to see. The closest I came was at the ’85 French Open. I was so happy, and I was thinking, “How come the tears aren’t coming?” But I was so conditioned, they just wouldn’t.
Martina I always admired Chris’s ability to control herself. Because I couldn’t.
Chris In the beginning, I had the edge because Martina hadn’t got herself 100% fit, and she was still emotional on the court. I felt I just had to be mentally tough. In the middle, I was like, “Aww, geez,” because as so
Chris The mental part of my game. A lot of players were faster and stronger, but I think being able to just zero in and focus was my strength.
Martina I think the ability to fail. Not being afraid to put it all on the line and come up short. Most people don’t have that.
Chris, you’ve said there was a point where you walked onto the court thinking you weren’t going to win—
Chris That was when I lost 13 times in a row over a two-and-a-half-year period—when Martina was invincible. She lost six matches in three years.
Martina Again, I think that speaks for Chris. A lot of people would have quit, but then she goes and wins the French Open twice. They write her off, and she comes back and wins a couple of majors.
So you always wanted to beat her at her best?
Martina That’s what it’s about. I’ve always said that, and people don’t believe me.
Chris And God love her. Here’s an example: When my first marriage was ending, I was kind of down, and Martina said, “Come on up to Aspen” and taught me how to ski. We would ski from 9 to 2, play tennis for two hours, then be in the gym for two hours—and she showed me what she was doing with weights. We did this for a week. Not many people who are No. 1 and No. 2 competitors would do that.
Retiring as a pro athlete is said to be a hard thing. Did you two commiserate?
Chris I went from retiring to getting married and having three kids, so I went from one high to another high. Now it’s hitting me. We’ve both been to therapy, because you have the highs and the lows, but life is really in between, and it’s about trying to find that balance to live in the middle. That’s why I think we’re going to have a lot to talk about over the next 20 years.