The most curious thing about rivalries in sports is how few pure ones there really are. Most, like Harvard vs. Yale in The Game, are institutional, and though the fans and the uniforms remain constant, the players do not. The Celtics and the Lakers may indeed be a great rivalry on the printed pages, but how does Bill Russell vs. Elgin Baylor compare with Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson of another generation? So often, too, legendary rivals actually faced off against one another on far fewer occasions than memory tells us. How many times, please, did Snead and Hogan really go hole to hole? Dempsey and Tunney squared off only twice.
Besides, the trouble with great rivalries is that while we like to think they seesaw, they don't. Oh, to be sure, every Alydar has his day, but one or the other is usually better. Not necessarily by a whole lot, but just enough. Jimmy Connors couldn't have caught up with Bjorn Borg if they'd played till the cows came home, and Borg knew the jig was up as soon as John McEnroe got his number, so he hung it up. In that heated Celtics-Lakers rivalry, it took Los Angeles a quarter of a century to take Boston's measure.
Probably that is why people like to speculate endlessly on questions about rivalries that never were. Who was better, Ruth or Mays, Man o' War or Secretariat, Baugh or Unitas, Julius Caesar or Napoleon? Rivalries of that kind tend to be better than the real ones. You can always order another round of beers and go on proving the unprovable. Listen, if Carl Lewis had been running in 1936, Jesse Owens would have blown by him. Hey, two more drafts over here. Are you kidding me? If he were in his prime today, Sugar Ray Robinson would knock Marvin Hagler's block off. And get this straight: Chris Evert Lloyd couldn't have stayed on the same court with Martina Navratilova if they'd ever played each other. Yo, bartender, a couple more.
Chris and Martina are like that. Chris and Martina have played each other for so long and so well and so often it doesn't seem real. Chris and Martina. Like cabaret singers: NOW APPEARING NITELY—MARTINA! DIRECT FROM VEGAS TO OUR PIANO BAR—CHRIS! Even Ms. magazine did a long article on Chris and Martina and called them, throughout, Chris and Martina. They first met back in 1973 and they've played 67 matches since then, in 14 consecutive calendar years, in 31 cities on four continents, squaring off 13 times alone in the finals of Grand Slam championships. And they're a good bet to show up in the finals of the French Open on June 8. During all but a minuscule portion of their rivalry, one or the other has been No. 1 in the world, and by now they are inextricably, symbiotically bound in history. Yet curiously, wonderfully, although they have competed for so long, they have carved out somewhat different universes, so no one could fairly say, for posterity, who might be the better. Chris, the more consistent, casts the longer shadow, while Martina, the more sensational, shines the brighter light. Together, they form a complete whole. There has never been a rivalry like it in women's sports.
You could even leave out the qualifying gender and be correct.
Although Evert Lloyd, 31 last Dec. 21, is less than two years older than Navratilova, and Navratilova, a perfect size 8, stands a modest 5'7�", only one dress size larger and one and a half inches taller than Chris, many people are under the illusion that Evert Lloyd is much older, and that Navratilova is a gruff Amazon who could jam little Chrissie into her pocket. Circumstances conspired to create these misconceptions.
The first time Martina ever laid eyes on the older woman was at the Fort Lauderdale Tennis Club in March 1973. Although only 18, Chris had been one of the top players in the world for two years, while Martina, at 16, had been breathlessly following her career, mostly through the pages of World Tennis, which a cousin in Canada mailed to her in Czechoslovakia. Everything about the tour, everything about America, left Martina gaga. Sure enough, one day, outside the clubhouse in the fabled Florida sun, there sat Christine Marie Evert playing backgammon. Martina's Czech escort said hello and Chris responded in kind, also tossing a polite smile to the young stranger. "I can remember it like it was yesterday," Martina says.
Chris has no recollection of that day whatsoever. "I'll bet Martina says she got goose bumps," she says.
Exactly. And shivers.
As for Chris, her first remembrance of Martina is from an occasion a few weeks later. The tour had gone north from Florida, and in Akron on March 22, 1973, before a crowd of a few hundred unsuspecting sentinels of history, Evert had beaten the unknown Czech 7-6, 6-3 in a first-round match. Martina was "thrilled to death" to draw Chris and even more pleased with her own performance. Back in Florida, in St. Pete, the week following, Chris glanced up from where she was sunning herself and saw this chubby vision approaching the pool.