As Martina Navratilova circled Centre Court at Wimbledon this afternoon, holding the trophy high over her head, her radiant smile lit up an already brilliant day.

Several yards away, Chris Evert Lloyd could only wait and watch. Three times she has held the trophy. Seven times she has had to watch.

This time, a stirring 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory by Navratilova may have been the most painful. One of Evert's trademarks has been grace in defeat, grinning bravely and offering her hand to the winner. What were her thoughts as she watched Navratilova today?

"It's not printable," she answered with a tight smile.

Through 66 matches -- 34 won by Navratilova -- through 12 years, 12 major finals, five of them at Wimbledon, they have remained friends. But each time they take the court, the rivalry intensifies.

Navratilova, the first woman to win four straight singles titles since Helen Wills Moody in 1930, called this her most satisfying victory. In a career filled with glamor and records, that is a remarkable statement.

But it is not surprising. When Evert beat Navratilova four weeks ago in a glorious French Open final that may go down as one of the best women's matches ever played, Navratilova was stung. She had not believed that, at 30, Evert was capable of ever beating her in a major tournament.

After all, she had won 13 straight matches from Evert during one stretch. She had beaten her in a three-set U.S. Open Final last September when Evert had played almost demonically. And yet, here was Evert, two years older than she, somehow improving at a time when her skills should be eroding.

"The better you are, the more you have to prove yourself," Navratilova said. "I've lost three matches this year and, all of a sudden, I hear I'm going downhill. It's tough to stay on top. I know how John (McEnroe, who was upset by Kevin Curren) feels.

"We both had a lot at stake today. Going in there was no clear cut No. 1."

Evert agreed. "I think we were both the favorites," she said. "It was 50-50."

Indeed the two were co-No. 1 seeds, unprecedented at Wimbledon, after Evert's victory in the French Open that had regained her the No. 1 ranking in the world. There was a feeling that Paris had perhaps been a turning point. It had been Evert's second straight Grand Slam victory -- she won the Australian Open in December after Navratilova was upset in the semifinals -- and played superbly here, losing just 16 games on the way to the final.

But Evert knew Navratilova would be sharp for this match.

"A lot of tennis is timing," Evert said. "Great champions come back after a loss. She had a little more to prove."

Navratilova certainly proved something today. She faced a keyed-up, honed-in Evert and won. She overcame an early case of the shakes and won. She didn't blink with almost 15,000 people seemingly pulling for Evert, an adopted daughter here because she is married to an Englishman, tennis player John Lloyd.

Down a set, Navratilova bore in on Evert during the second and third sets, finally making her miss her passing shots. "Attack, I kept thinking," she said. "Keep attacking."

Always, that has been Navratilova's strength. When she first won here in 1978, she was large and powerful, a chunky woman with thunderous shots. Now, she is slimmer, but still a brilliant and powerful athlete. Her hair, once dark brown, is now very blond.

Evert, by contrast, has always been the picture of grace. She, too, is thinner than she once was, also a better athlete now. Her once-long hair is now short and styled with mousse.

One thing never has changed in either: the thirst to win -- especially against each other.

Bjorn Borg, five times the champion here, once said that winning is like a drug: once you've experienced it, you want it again and again and again.

There is no better example of that than Evert and Navratilova. Today was Navratilova's 12th grand slam title. Evert has won 17. Yet each keeps going, driven by the other. Evert beats Navratilova in Paris by adding power to her forehand and serve. Navratilova beats Evert at Wimbledon with a new sliced forehand.

And, after the match, Evert was already spoiling for another fight: "This is disappointing because I played so well the whole tournament and I beat her at the French. But grass is her best surface and it was still very close. I'm looking forward to playing her (at the U.S. Open) on a hard court."

Wherever they play, it is always the same. They are so much better than all the other women playing tennis, that talk of successors or challengers is moot.

Today, after Navratilova had made her record in Wimbledon finals 6-0 (5-0 against Evert) someone asked who she thought her next challenger might be.

Navratilova smiled. The answer came without hesitation:

"Chris."