Tennis players Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert had one of the most intense rivalries in sports. Over 15 years, they faced each other 80 times. The heated competition between them helped them both improve their games. In Martina & Chrissie, created by Phil Bildner and Brett Helquist, the story of the two is displayed through text and beautiful illustration. Simplified for young readers, the book captures the importance of the friendship that prevailed between Navratilova and Evert even during their heated rivalry.
Navratilova and Evert were from two completely different worlds. Evert, an All-American girl, was a fan favorite in the U.S. She had perfect groundstrokes, an incredible tennis game, and acted with grace and poise. By the time she was 16, she was considered a phenom.
Navratilova grew up in a completely different environment. She was born in the Soviet Union, where she lived under a communist government with very limited freedom. She was scrappy, with an aggressive serve-and-volley game. She was emotional, and her tennis game defied expectations of how women were supposed to act.
They first played each other in 1973, and between ’73 and ’77, Evert won 21 out of their 25 matches. Evert was in better shape, and Navratilova ended matches exhausted and defeated. During those years, Evert won seven Grand Slam titles, while Navratilova didn’t win any.
Finally, Navratilova decided to get into better shape. She trained hard and eventually gained speed and endurance to match that of Evert. The two women were finally neck and neck, and they played compelling matches. Eventually, Navratilova pulled ahead and started to beat Evert more and more.
Between 1981 and ’88, Navratilova won 30 of their matches, while Evert only won 10. These two phenomenal athletes were the best players during their era. They had two completely different styles yet managed to play high-energy, competitive matches. But the real magic of their rivalry was that amid this intense competition, they became friends.
In any competition, it can be difficult to be a good sport when facing your rivals. Many people develop feelings of animosity toward their competitors. Not Evert and Navratilova. Despite their differences and their rivalry, they became companions. They spent time together, practiced together, and established a friendly relationship. During a time of political turmoil between their countries, the two players were able to evolve the game of women’s tennis through their intense competition while also building a bridge to unite people who possessed differences.
The book captures the importance of a friendship that prevailed between athletes even during their heated rivalry. And isn’t that the beauty of sports?
Photographs by (from top) Candlewick Press; Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images