The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship Paperback – Jun 13 2006
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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.
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
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.
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.
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.