Not only great victories, but also great defeats are an inevitable part of the journey to sporting immortality. One of the best tennis players in history, Martina Navrátilová, was largely moved by the brutal debacle with her biggest rival, Chris Evert. It took place on green clay, in the final of the Amelia Island tournament. 42 years have passed since his death this week.
April 26, 1981. The finals of the prestigious Florida event pitted the greatest rivals of the 70s and 80s against each other: Chris Evert and Martina Navrátilová. But the expected fight only “entertained” the audience for 54 minutes. Navrátilová had no chance against an opponent who was two years older and caught two “canaries”.
The result 0:6, 0:6 shone on the scoreboard, when the native of Prague, who officially obtained American citizenship just this year, apologized to the audience present and the organizers for her performance.
“When they introduced Chris to the court, they said she was a clay virtuoso. She proved them right. I’m sorry I didn’t play better. I have a check here for $16,000 and I feel like I should return half of it,” the defending New York champion was quoted as saying Times.
But she ended her speech with humor. “I just hope Chrissie’s pregnant when I get back here,” she laughed, referring to Evert’s newlywed marriage to British tennis player John Lloyd.
The 41st duel between the two stars has just ended. In the head-to-head balance, Evertová already led 28:13 per match. But for Navrátilová, the cruel defeat meant above all an opportunity for learning and further development.
She had a successful rematch just a few months later, when she eliminated Evert in the semi-finals of the US Open. She still fell in the final of the 1982 Australian Open, but then defeated her opponent in thirteen consecutive matches.
In 1984, she finally started defeating her rival on clay as well. She swept her 6:2, 6:0 in the final of the next Amelia Island Open and shortly afterwards 6:3, 6:1 in the fight for the Roland Garros winner’s trophy. This year, by the way, Navrátilová defeated Evertova in both the Wimbledon and US Open finals.
“Martina went through a transformation. She started working hard in the gym, lifting heavy weights, playing basketball, doing more cardio, more cross-fitness. I think I haven’t beaten her in two and a half years,” Evertová recalled recently.
One of the most amazing rivalries in the history of the sport ended in 1988. In the last eightieth duel in Chicago, Navrátilová – as otherwise than in the final – defeated Evertová 6:2, 6:2 and established the final mutual balance: 43:37 in matches.
Both tennis players won the same 18 Grand Slam singles titles in their careers. Evertová spent 260 weeks at the top of the ranking, Navrátilová even 332 weeks. Her record was surpassed in the 1990s by the German Steffi Graf, who replaced the Czech-American in absolute rule over world tennis. This year, the maximum number of weeks spent on the throne was even bettered by the Serbian Novak Djokovic.
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