Martina Navratilova vs Chris Evert Head to Head and Rivalry

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May-Jun 1986:  Martina Navratilova (left) of the USA chats with Chris Evert also of the USA as they hold their respective trophies after the Womens Singles final during the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris.  Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

Martina Navratilova vs Chris Evert Head to Head: 43 – 37

The rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova is considered by many to have been one of most intense and enduring in tennis history, if not in all of sport.  There have been few to match it in terms of longevity.  Their first tour match against one another was in 1973 and their last took place in 1989, a huge length of time in tennis terms.  As a testament to both players’ longevity, they first met as callow youths and ended their rivalry in seasoned maturity.

Their rivalry ran in parallel with a number of tense rivalries at the top of the men’s game in the 1970’s and 1980’s, involving Borg, Connors, McEnroe and Lendl.  When Evert and Navratilova arrived on the scene, Margaret Court was in the process of exiting from the game and Billie-Jean King (whose rivalry with Court defined the top of the women’s game in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s) was beginning to decline in singles dominance.  The tennis public was, therefore, ready for a replacement head-to-head rivalry, although it took a number of years for that rivalry to develop and solidify into the premier rivalry of the women’s game which it became.

It began in the era of the developing women’s game of the early 1970’s (aided by the efforts of King and others and the Virginia Slims tour).  Drawing strength from the burgeoning women’s tour, their talent and rivalry, in turn provided a huge boost the women’s tour itself.

Navratilova and Evert untypically, were able to combine a friendship off the court which, with the exception of the Borg /McEnroe rivalry, would have been almost unheard of at the top of the men’s game.

Like Borg/McEnroe and McEnroe/Lendl, theirs was a rivalry of opposites.  Evert was the cool ‘Ice Maiden’, graceful, controlled and disciplined, a baseline supremo.  Navratilova, by contrast, was powerful, explosive, strong on the serve and at the net.   One was a right-hander and the other a left-hander.  One was the all-American girl from the Sunshine State, the other the outsider from Communist Czechoslovakia (although a virulent critic of the Communist regime who eventually took citizenship in the US).  These acknowledged contrasts simply added to the spice of their intense rivalry on court.  They were a female equivalent of that equally intense rivalry between Lendl and McEnroe of the same era.

In their head to head encounters, Navratilova came out on top by 43 wins to 37.  However, Evert dominated in the years 1973-1978 and Navratilova in the years 1979-1989.  In Grand Slam finals between the two, Navratilova had 10 wins to Evert’s 4 and in all finals, Navratilova was ahead 36-25.  To her credit, however, Evert holds the record (among men and women) of 34 career Grand Slam Singles titles, far surpassing even Navratilova who held 18.  Navratilova holds the most Wimbledon singles titles (9), while Evert holds the record for the most French Open Singles titles (7) and US Open (6).  To show further that Evert was no slouch, her career win record was 90.05 – the highest – and there was no year between 1974 and 1986 when she did not win at least one Grand Slam singles event.

Indicative of their respective strengths and styles of play, Navratilova dominated on grass, carpet and hard courts, while Evert came out ahead on clay.  On occasion, they both teamed up as doubles partners.  In Navratilova’s case, doubles proved a particularly rich mine as she won 31 Grand Slam doubles titles, partnering as well as Evert, Pam Shriver and Billie-Jean King on the way.  Her record in doubles was outstanding: between 1983 and 1985, for example, in partnership with Shriver, she won 109 consecutive doubles matches.  To reinforce further Navratilova’s dominance in the rivalry, Evert never managed to defeat Navratilova in either the Wimbledon or US Open finals, although did manage to beat her in both the French and the Australian’s.

Evert’s relative age meant that she came to the end of her playing career earlier than Navratilova.  Navratilova, on the other hand, seemed to go on forever.  Her final Grand Slam win was in 1990 in the Wimbledon final against Zena Garrison and at the age of 37, reached the 1994 Wimbledon final against Conchita Martinez.    At age 46 in 2003, she won the Wimbledon and Australian mixed doubles finals, becoming the oldest ever Grand Slam winner.  As if this was not enough, at just under her half century in 2006, she won the mixed at the US Open – a tremendous string of achievements by any standard.  Although she had ceded dominance in the women’s game to Steffi Graf in the late 1980’s, she continued to play at the highest level for many years to come.

Both were outstanding talents in their own right, but the standing of each was enhanced by their long and intense rivalry.   In recent years, Chris Evert was gracious enough to concede that Navratilova was better at her best than Evert was at hers.  The record was unequivocally in Navratilova’s favour, but the contest between such strong and opposing talents was what transfixed the tennis public for almost two decades. At a time when the women’s tour was finding its feet in the early years of the professional era, their rivalry helped boost the development of the women’s game to the level it now enjoys.

Paul McElhinney

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