40 LOVE Moments: It All Began In Akron
Published March 29, 2013 12:00
AKRON, OH, USA - It was a Thursday, Nixon was President, Killing Me Softly was No.1 - Roberta Flack, not the Fugees - and in Akron, Ohio, the greatest rivalry women's tennis has ever seen began.
On March 22, 1973, 40 years and a week ago, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert played for the very first time, one already a star and the other an up-and-comer coming from behind the Iron Curtain - Navratilova has talked about how thrilled she was that Evert even acknowledged her existence then.
It was the first round of the Akron Tennis Open, an indoor carpet event with $25,000 in total prize money. Navratilova, who was unseeded, showed flashes of the brilliance that would take her to the top of the sport one day, breaking at 5-all in the first set and building a 30-0 lead while serving for it at 6-5; but the No.2-seeded Evert would claw her way back and take the set in a tie-break, then eventually win in straights, 76(5-1) 63. She would go on to beat Olga Morozova in the final to take the title.
Little did either them know they would forge the defining drama of women's tennis - by the end of their 16-year rivalry they had played each other a total of 80 times, with Navratilova leading the head-to-head series, 43-37, and their last match coming in the final of the Virginia Slims of Chicago in 1988.
Among those 80 meetings were 14 Grand Slam finals - Navratilova leading that head-to-head as well, 10-4, winning in two Australian Open finals (1981 and 1985), one French Open final (1984), five Wimbledon finals (1978, 1979, 1982, 1984 and 1985) and two US Open finals (1983 and 1984). Evert won in one Australian Open final (1982) and three French Open finals (1975, 1985 and 1986).
One of the many memorable quotes the two have made about their rivalry came after the final of the 1985 Australian Open, with Navratilova commenting after winning the title, "If somebody had told me back in '73 that Chris and I were going to play each other 67 times, I think I would've quit right then. Nevertheless, we both started streaking our hair so you don't see the gray hair we give each other.
"It's just too bad that one of us has to lose."
Since their rivalry, the mutual respect between the two 18-time Grand Slam champions is obvious.
"Her fans appreciated what she stood for, and my fans appreciated what I stood for," Evert has been quoted as saying. "It was about how we looked, how we acted, our style and where we came from."
"I still have a closeness with her that I will never have with another human being because of what we went through together, on and off the court," Navratilova told The Times in the UK back in 1999.