Subscribe to ThaWilsonBlock Magazine $2.99/mo

WilsonBlock1000 Radio

Questions to Consider for Bitter Rivals. Beloved Friends. Survivors: The Story of Evert and Navratilova

Have you noticed? We live in an age of too much information at our fingertips. One can all to easily drown in the sea of social media. And still, some articles emerge triumphant. Certain stories get shared—promoted and passed on among friends and family members. They catch fire and capture our imaginations. And this past weekend—at the advent of Wimbledon and the long 4th of July holiday weekend—one reigned supreme: Bitter Rivals. Beloved Friends. Survivors by Sally Jenkins. I'm glad it did. Maybe you are too.

A good friend who hails from Washington DC was the first to share this lengthy read from the Washington Post. I then saw it posted on a friend's Facebook feed. She mentioned that the firewall was down. I took note, although I didn't have to.... five other friends shared it with me via text. "Wow!" 

My surprise and delight was catapulted by what I saw lying on the desk in my parents' kitchen: a printed copy of it. My sister-in-law brought the WaPo feature with her from our nation's capital. She said "I figured someone in this house would enjoy this read." Sold.

I will admit, I read it with a bit of skepticism. I didn't know if there was a new angle to this story. I thought ESPNS's 30 for 30: Unmatched from 2010 said it all. I was wrong....and I love being wrong. These tennis greats have faced new challenges and added inspiring chapters to their tale. Thus, the purpose of this blog is to offer not insight on the article, but questions for you to consider. Please share your own. Enjoy.

Beautiful writing
The introduction to this piece paints a portrait of the sights and sounds of tennis—enveloping the reader. Take a moment of pause and consider the specific sights and sounds of the sport you play or love. What are they?

Isolation in Being the Best
In his autobiography, "Open," Andre Agassi characterizes tennis as a lonely game. The further one advances in a tourney, fewer people remain. Jenkins writes "At first, the locker room is a hive of 128 competitors, milling and chattering, but each day their numbers ebb until just two people are left in that confrontational hush known as the final." 

Not all individual sports are this way. For example, while not all golfers make the final cut, during the final round half of the field remains. And yet I wonder: Does this attribute of tennis speak a truth about excellence? To what degree is being the best—and the pursuit of it—lonely or isolating?

I love jewelry. It's such a personal and unique way that humanity expresses itself. And, I love talking to other women 
(mostly) about it. 

I love that Evert gave Navratilova a necklace signifying their long friendship for her 60th birthday. And I love that Martina decided to honor her friend by wearing it...but there's a twist.

In January 2022, Evert learned that she had Stage 1C ovarian cancer. As Evert embarked on a grueling six cycles of chemotherapy, Navratilova pulled the Cartier necklace from her jewelry box and put it on, a talisman. “I wore it all the time when I wanted her to get well,” Navratilova says. For months, she never took it off.

Only one thing made her remove it: radiation. In December 2022, Navratilova received her own diagnosis: She had not one but two early-stage cancers, in her throat and breast.

“I finally had to take it off when I got zapped,” Navratilova says.

What jewelry do you wear in honor of another person?
Share the story of a piece of jewelry that someone has given to you. 

BTW: I think Cartier ought to rebrand that necklace and name it "the friendship necklace."


Evert and Navratilova met when they were 18 and 16 years old, respectively. Their first match was played on March 22, 1973 in Akron Ohio. Evert won in straight sets. Jenkins writes,
Evert had never faced anything like it. The curving lefty serve caromed away from her, and so did the charging volleys. “She had weapons that I hadn’t seen in a young player — ever,” Evert says. Two things gave Evert relief: Navratilova’s lack of fitness — she had put on 20 pounds in four weeks on American pancakes — and her emotionalism. “She was almost crying on the court in the match, you know, just moaning,” Evert says. Nevertheless, Evert had never felt such a formidableness from a new opponent and never would again. 
Is it just me, or are you wondering if you can/should ever eat pancakes again?!

The Brain
A tennis player must be remarkably observant. The greats notice myopic details about their opponent, the game, and the ball to use to their advantage.

Standing just 5'6" and 125 lbs. Navratilova wondered how and why Evert was so dominant, until she watched Evert play against her younger sister, Jeanne (who was also a pro). "
By the end of the session Navratilova understood that Evert’s greatest weapon was “her brain.”

Why don't we give athletes more credit for the way they use their mind, for their athletic IQ? How often to you pay attention to "smart players?" Do you/we give athletes enough credit for using their brain?

Competition and Friendship
I did not realize that Evert and Navratilova were much more than just doubles partners early on in their careers. They were close friends. However, that changed in 1976 when Navratilova began to "score more victories over Evert." 

“Chris, by her own admission, could only be close friends with people who never had a chance of beating her,” Navratilova says.

Evert hated to play someone she cared about — hated it. “I thought, ‘God, I can’t be emotional towards these people,’ ” Evert says now. “… It was easier not to even know them.”

Respond....and see earlier question about isolation and loneliness as part of excellence.

Challenge, please?
One of the better rule changes in sports is the line challenge in tennis. The technology that supports it is truly remarkable and it's important. Why? Because as my niece told me "99% out is 100% in." And, it's not easy to get that right.

Challenges are not automatic, a player gets three of the per set, upon request. NB: These three challenges apply to both the tie-break and advantage methods of scoring sets. While a challenge is not charged to a player who is successful in their challenge attempt, a challenge is charged if the player is unsuccessful. It's exciting to watch the review.

The are but a few ideas I would like to challenge in this article and just one I want to put into writing.

Jenkins wrote "Navratilova observes that, in its way, Evert’s childhood was as stifling as her own had been in Czechoslovakia. “We are much more the same than different, really,” she says. “So much of it was imposed on both of us, one way or the other, with her Catholic, proper girl upbringing and me being suppressed by communism.”

While I understand the larger point that Navratilova is trying to make, I struggle with this comparison. While the reader has a sense that Evert's father was controlling and that she was raised a Catholic, I don't see being brought up with a faith tradition or in a "proper" way to be an imposition. At least not in the way that I understand communism is...or was. Challenge, please?!

No, I'm not talking about the Taylor Swift song. I would like to discuss a strategy Navratilova employed at the advice of her coach.

Lieberman told her she had to get “mean” about Evert and showed what she meant by being intentionally rude to Evert in player lounges. Evert would start to greet them, and Lieberman would turn her back or say frostily, “Are you talking to me?” It quietly infuriated Evert. “They weren’t very nice to me,” Evert says. “I mean, Nancy taught her to hate me.”

And, to some degree, it worked. "From 1982 to 1984, it was Navratilova’s turn to be cold. She reached 10 Grand Slam finals — and won eight of them. In that stretch, she beat Evert 14 straight times, with an abbreviating serve-and-volley power that seemed almost dismissive."

Coaches: Have you ever coached an athlete to develop this mentality? Do you think it is necessary? While it isn't THE reason that the tides turned in the Evert v. Navratilova match up—now advantage Navratilova, it might have helped. Is that what being the best requires?!

Caption Necessary
Sometimes words are not necessary. However, this image taken at the 1985 French Open Championship Jenkins' recalls what must be one of the great matches in women's tennis history. Read what she says for yourself;  Martina's words say it all:
The embrace at the net is one of their enduringly favorite pictures. They threw their arms over each other’s shoulders, mutually exhausted yet beaming over the quality of the tennis they had just played. “You can’t tell who won.” That might be the best caption ever.
“You can’t tell who won,”

A Statue for...
The article concludes with an interesting image and the suggestion that—maybe—we can honor these two great athletes for something other than their achievements.

There are statues of Arthur Ashe at the U.S. Open, Fred Perry at Wimbledon, Rod Laver at the Australian Open and Rafael Nadal at the French Open. The blazers who run the major championships have not yet commissioned sculptures of these two women, who so unbound their sport and gave the gift of professional aspiration to so many. Yet who exemplify, perhaps more than any champions in the annals of their sport, the deep internal mutual grace called sportsmanship.

And yet, the entire article is a testimony of the friendship that has sustained both women in profound ways—through many of life's greatest challenges. Does sportsmanship always lead to friendship? Should it? Given its power, is it something we appreciate enough? Ought we create a statue that honors two athletes who became great friends because of.... the game?! 

Thank you, to my friends for sharing this great piece.

Photo Credits




Show more