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The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship [Paperback]

Johnette Howard


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Book Description

June 13 2006
In the annals of sports, no individual rivalry matches the intensity, longevity, and emotional resonance of the one between two extraordinary women: Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

Over sixteen years, Evert and Navratilova met on the tennis court a record eighty times—sixty times in finals. At their first match in Akron, Ohio, in 1973, Chris was an eighteen-year-old star and Martina, two years her junior, was an unknown Czech making her first trip to the United States. It would be two years before Martina finally beat Chris, and another year—after Navratilova had dropped twenty pounds and improved her game—before Evert publicly betrayed her first hint of concern. By then, the women were already friends and sometimes doubles partners, and the colorful story that would captivate the world was under way.

The Rivals is the first book to examine the intertwined journey of these legendary champions, based on extensive interviews with each. Taking readers on and off the courts with vivid, never-before-published material, award-winning sportswriter Johnette Howard shows how Evert and Navratilova came of age during the rambunctious golden age of tennis in the 1970s, and how—together—they redefined women’s athletics during a time of volcanic change in sports and society. Their epic careers unfolded against the backdrop of the fight for Title IX, the gay rights movement, the women's movement and the fall of the iron curtain. Howard draws entertaining, intimate, and myth-shattering portraits of Evert and Navratilova, describing the personal migrations each woman made, and showing how enmeshed their lives became.

Navratilova and Evert’s ability to forge and maintain a friendship during sixteen years of often-cutthroat competition has always provoked wonder and admiration. They were a study in contrasts, a collision of politics and style and looks. Chris was the crowd darling while Martina, her greatest foil, was often cast as the villain. Chris was the imperturbable champion who proved toughness and femininity weren’t mutually exclusive; Martina was portrayed as both emotionally fragile and some fearsome Amazon. Chris’s off-court life was presumed to be bedrock solid, the stuff of Main Street America; Martina’s was derided as outrageous and sometimes chaotic, even during her invincible years. Yet, through it all, the two remained friends who lifted each other to heights that each says she couldn’t have reached without the other.

Women’s tennis now is more popular than ever, thanks in large part to the trailblazing of Evert and Navratilova. A rivalry like theirs, filled with so many grace notes, is unique in sports history.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition (June 13 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767918851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767918855
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #588,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

For 16 years, Evert and Navratilova faced each other on the tennis court; they met 80 times—and 60 times in finals. Newsday columnist Howard captivatingly tells the story of how these two women came together from disparate worlds and founded a complicated though lasting friendship. Evert, the charming, ponytailed daughter of a middle-class, all-American family, captured many fans' hearts when she arrived on the scene at 16. Navratilova, on the other hand, exuded seriousness; her determined look and sturdy frame matched her history, a dramatic, heart-wrenching one that involved leaving her family behind in communist Czechoslovakia. Howard shows how Evert and Navratilova's paths slowly merged, until they finally faced each other for the first time in 1973. From then until 1988, they traded leads, with Evert winning most of the early matches and Navratilova dominating in later years (overall, Navratilova held a 43–37 advantage). Howard is equally adept at covering the athletes' personal lives (she interviewed both players) as well as their competition and divergent playing styles. She also pays homage to stars like Billie Jean King, who was committed to promoting women's tennis, so this work makes a fine contribution to the history of women in sports.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Of the great individual rivalries in modern sport--Ali-Frazier, Borg-McEnroe, Nicklaus-Palmer, Chamberlain-Russell, for example--the greatest was arguably that between tennis champions Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who played one another in 80 singles matches (60 of them finals) during the years 1973-88, Martina winning 43 and Chrissie taking 37. As Newsday sports columnist Howard ably shows, the rivalry was epic because both were the dominant players of the time, a title was usually at stake, together they elevated the game, and, perhaps most important, their sportsmanship toward one another fully transcended their on-court battles. Howard traces each player's early development--Evert in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and Navratilova in the small Prague suburb of Revnice--their careers, their personal journeys, and their classic matches. She fully covers Martina's controversial relationship with lover and personal-trainer Nancy Lieberman, who helped mold Navratilova into the forceful player she became. And Howard provides sizzling reportage of Evert-Navratilova's most famous matches, including the 1985 French Open final, which Evert won 6-3, 6-7, 7-5. Highly recommended for anyone looking to understand the essence of a champion. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A detailed glipse into the lives of 2 tennis superstars June 24 2005
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Martina Navratilova had the physical edge. As a child she was selected by the Communists as a potentially prize-winning athlete, based on bone structure and musculature. She was a fighting machine who quickly mastered any sport she was exposed to, and when she was willing to concentrate no one could beat her on Center Court. Chris Evert by contrast was all concentration. She didn't have the latent strength and pounding ability of her most famous rival, but she had a mental game that wouldn't quit. She knew how to be efficient with every shot, she was patient, she could come back to win slowly after initial defeat, and do it with a little-girl innocence that made her the press's darling.

Martina was the woman the press loved to hate. They hated her for saying she was a lesbian (others were but no one said so, and Billie Jean King famously tried to cover up her sexual history when confronted with a palimony suit). They hated her for looking mannish and acting like a bully against pretty girls like Chrissie and Tracey Austin. They hated her for her big mouth and her uncompromising kookiness.

No one suspected that Chrissie, as tall and dominant as Martina, was not all Pollyanna. She had her affairs, her rages, and her wild moments on tour. The women, thanks in large part to ground broken by Billie Jean, were superstars. They were as adored as many rock musicians. Chris had only to pen a short note on a napkin to land a date with Burt Reynolds, known in his heyday as a Hollywood sex machine. Martina was coached by a woman who had been a man, Renee Richards --- dated by the mercurial author Rita Mae Brown --- who put a bullet through her car windshield, and was followed by the secret police when she went on a world tour.

They were grand figures living in grand times. Martina appears in photographs beginning with her fluffy hair and youthful chubbiness and leading on to her militant bangs and sepulchrally thin look, all muscle and long bones. Chris never really changed. They were of similar height, blondish, handsome women. They both had a steely gaze and gave up not one point that they didn't have to. They paved the way for the ones who came after and lifted women's tennis off the fourth page of the sports section to the front page, with some notable appearances in the scandal sheets.

Johnette Howard, a sports columnist, has examined their lives in rich and believable detail, revealing the moments when each on separate occasions collapsed in tears after a match, when each had shocking love affairs, when each beat the other stroke by grueling stroke, and when both supported the other. No one but Chris could truly understand what Martina went through, and vice versa. They were, for a few bright years, all there was to watch.

--- Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Game, Set and Match Jan. 19 2007
By Mark J. Lewis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book offers an insightful look into the lives of Martina and Chris.

If you're a fan of either you'll enjoy their perspectives individually.

If you're a fan of both...all the better for you. You will read how each supported, coaxed, teased, fought, encouraged and ultimately validated each other and each other's career.

I think this book de-mythologizes much of what we've heard before about Chris and Martina's relationship. At the same time, it re-inforces things we already knew, but adds a little more depth: incredible friends, incredible rivals...A friendship that transcends their rivalry and a rivalry that transcended sport.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars tennis at its finest Aug. 2 2005
By S. dehner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
after attending so many of the matches between chris and martina described in this book - i just had to read and remember along with the author - tennis has become a different game...
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Times Have Changed April 19 2006
By Bradley F. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Given the high octane, big-money state of womens' tennis today, this book is a quaint look back at how things used to be in the 70s and 80s when tennis was more popular, but still much less sophisticated, than today's game.

The writing is high quality. The author spoke with Evert and Navratilova at length, including many of Martina's ex's, but not Jimmy Connors, Evert's most famous flame.

While their rivalry makes great history, watching it unfold was not the drama this book would like to recall it as. Most matches were boringly lopsided, especially when Evert was dominating the early years.

Women's tennis today is much more a game of equals where anything can happen. When Chrissie and Martina ruled, the only question was what time was their final because they were usually in it.

Still, the book pays homage to a nostalgic era, and recounts with great drama the slow build of a female rivalry and friendship for the sports ages.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HISTORY COMES TO LIFE IN REMARKABLE READ June 21 2005
By Thomas Adrahtas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Johnette Howard's The Rivals captures the historic rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with the perfect balance between social import and the drama of sport. The author pens a vivid portrait of the two women as individuals with their own unique struggles and challenges who became champions in every sense of the word either because of, or in spite of those challenges.

Howard gives proper due to the contributions of Billie Jean King to sports (I do not qualify that as "women's sports", because indeed the real strength of King's legacy is that it enriched ALL sports) in general and tennis in particular, and both Evert and Navratilova are generous in describing the debt they owe to King, a refreshing attitude given today's generally unappreciative athletes.

In their own ways, both Evert and Navratilova serve as irreplaceable role models, Evert making it OK for parents to allow their little girls to aspire to athletic greatness, Navratilova raising the bar as to just how far one can push the limits of physical training...not to mention her amazing courage as an "out" gay athlete during an era that wasn't very forgiving.

The balance Howard strikes between narrative and oral history is remarkable and makes the book even more entertaining. Her interview subjects are candid without being lurid, and it is obvious that all of the contemporaries of the rivals have arrived at a healthy level of respect and admiration for the two women who smashed and rewrote the record book of women's tennis.

But Howard's most striking accomplishment in the book is her ability to bring some of the duo's epic matches to life. I can tell you from first hand experience that describing sporting events in a realistic and compelling way is one of literature's great challenges. Howard rates a perfect ten on that account.

The term "must read" is the most over-used in reviews. But this book is absolutley a must-read for any fan of tennis, sports, or social history. I had a professor who once told men that if you want an accurate guage of social history in the US, all you have to do is follow the evolution of sports. THE RIVALS is proof that he was right.

I have only one complaint. I wanted the book to be twice as long. As when the ladies played, I never wanted it to end.

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