Unmatched Doc of the Week

Unmatched

Their rivalry on the court was the stuff of legend and defined women’s tennis for a whole generation of fans. Off the court, however, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova have been good friends since the very beginning, a close relationship that endures to this day. BT Sport 1, Sun, June 10th 14.00

Evert and Navratilova are two of the greatest women’s tennis players of all time. They dominated the game for more than a decade between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s when barely a major tournament went by without at least one of them in the final.

Indeed, such was their dominance that one of them finished the season ranked No. 1 world over twelve consecutive years from 1975 to 1986. They both won 18 grand slam singles titles and played each other 80 times in all, with 60 of those matches coming in tournament finals and a remarkable 14 in grand slam finals. Navratilova holds a slight 43-37 advantage in the head-to-head stakes.


The world hardly noticed when the pair met for the first time in 1973 when the 18-year-old Evert beat the 16-year-old Navratilova. "I remember that she was fat," Evert recalls in Unmatched, one of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. "She was very emotional on the court, whining if she didn't feel she was playing well. But I remember thinking, if she loses weight, we're all in trouble."

Interviews


Directed and produced by Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern-Winters with Hannah Storm serving as co-producer, Unmatched comprises a series of interviews Storm conducted with the pair over three days in which they reminisced about their rivalry on the court and their great friendship off of it. “My goal was for her to remember my name," Navratilova says of that first encounter and, after 80 matches, hundreds of thousands of miles of travelling together and countless grand slam titles, the whole world knows that she succeeded.


It developed into one of the greatest sporting rivalries of all times. There are other famous rivalries such as Borg and McEnroe and Frazier and Ali. But Borg and McEnroe only played each other 14 times and Ali and Frazier only fought three times. It gives an indication of how far ahead of the rest they were at the time and the total dominance they enjoyed in the women’s game.

On the face of it they may have appeared like polar opposite: Evert the effortlessly graceful all-American girl from the sunshine state of Florida, while Prague-born Navratilova appeared at first awkward and ungainly but her heart on sleeve style and athletic prowess soon won her plenty of admirers. They were brought together by the game they loved and continue to be very closely involved with more than 45 years since they turned professional. They spent a lot of time together and it shows – their bond is very strong.


"Just think about the dynamic of competing against your best friend. They would practice together, eat lunch together, then go out and play in the final and then make travel plans to go to the next tournament," Storm says, revealing her deep admiration for them both.

Personal tale


It’s a story that anyone with even a passing knowledge of women’s tennis at that time will feel they already know. But this time we hear it as it’s never been told before – in the words of the two main protagonists. It’s a very personal tale, with plenty of interesting detail. They discuss practicing together before tournaments as well as winning the Wimbledon ladies’ doubles title in 1976. They tell us what they were thinking at critical junctures in big matches.


We also hear stories about the endless travelling between tournaments as the tour moved from one venue to the next and their double dating with Dean Martin Jr. and Desi Arnaz Jr. and how Navratilova helped Evert meet her second husband, Andy Mill.

At the height of their rivalry, Navratilova once remarked about how she looked forward to the day when she could sit down with Evert over a glass of wine and reminisce about it all. Well, that time has come and Unmatched captures it all beautifully. It’s a perfect companion piece to the French Open finals this weekend at Roland Garos where the pair fought some of their greatest battles.


Pictures: Getty Images

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