They had been rivals for 11 years. Sixty times, from one end of the planet to the other, they had tested each other, pushed each other, tried to control each other. And the result had been a 30-30 standoff.
Today, they munched on bagels together in the locker room before taking the court to fight for a championship each wanted desperately, though for different reasons.
When they emerged, into the withering sunlight of Louis Armstrong Stadium, they produced a tennis match that will be remembered for years to come. Chris Evert Lloyd never looked more like a champion. Her brilliance forced Martina Navratilova to prove yet again that she, too, is a champion for the ages as she beat Evert, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, to win her second straight U.S. Open.
When it was over, Navratilova raced across the court and wept in the arms of her coach, Mike Estep, who sat only a few feet from Evert's husband, John Lloyd. Evert, ever the stoic, stood near the umpire's chair, the disappointment etched on her face, knowing that, at 29, another chance like this may never come.
"It's disappointing because I had my chances," Evert said. "It's not enough to just play a good match against her. I thought she might have a letdown but she didn't."
Navratilova, whose mood swings during the match ranged from fury to frustration to fist-pumping joy, said she showed a will to win that even she did not expect. "I just reached down and pulled everything that I had in me to just hang in there," she said. "I think I just wanted it real bad. I think I probably surprised Chris how badly I wanted it. I surprised myself."
Evert had lost her last 12 matches to Navratilova, many by one-sided scores. But the six-time champion here hit winners down the line and cross court. She lobbed superbly. She even won the first set with a rarely seen forehand volley.
She threw everything she had at Navratilova. With the crowd almost delirious in its support of Evert, with Evert, jaw set, brown eyes flashing, so clearly pumped up, it would have been easy for Navratilova to fold after the first set.
Once, she almost certainly would have. But now, at 27, she is a mature, confident player. Winning 55 straight matches -- one short of Evert's open-era streak -- and six straight Grand Slam titles will do that for a player.
Confidence carried Navratilova today. Against any other player in the world, Evert plays big points as if she owns them, almost certain that she will do what she has to in order to win. Against Navratilova, it is not the same. Evert knows that Navratilova has more weapons. That was never more evident than this evening.
For six games they sparred, each a little tentative. Navratilova saved a break point in the sixth game, then broke Evert to take a 4-3 lead when Evert pushed a backhand deep.
But Evert began picking up the pace of her returns, hitting her two-fisted backhand with the kind of verve that made her a teen-age star 13 years ago.
As quickly as Navratilova was ahead, Evert was back even, breaking her at love to tie the set at 4-4, the break coming on a whipsaw backhand. Evert held for 5-4, then the two played one of those magic games that leave people gasping.
Evert began with another backhand winner. She got her first set point with a forehand down the line, Navratilova, looking slightly shell-shocked as the ball whizzed past her.
Navratilova saved the set there when she got a serve in and Evert netted a backhand. But Evert came right back with another backhand for a second set point.
The next point was nothing less than stunning. In came Navratilova; Evert lobbed. Navratilova caught up, whipsawed a forehand and Evert went cross court. Navratilova got there, but Evert was charging as she returned and punched a forehand volley into the open court for the winner and the set.
It was the first set Navratilova had lost here in 14 matches, dating back to her 1982 loss to Pam Shriver. Evert was rolling, the crowd was rocking. "I understand people pulling for Chris because I'm the favorite," Navratilova said. "But for a while I thought maybe Chris was a blood relative of the Mets or something, the way they were carrying on."
Pushed harder than she has been pushed in a major final since her Grand Slam streak began, Navratilova didn't blink. In the second set and the third, she broke Evert in the third game of the set, each time at love. In each set, she held off Evert's determined efforts to break back, saving two break points in the last game of the second set and another one in the eighth game of the third set.
It was in the final game of the second set that Evert had her best chance to win this match. Deep down, she knew a third set would be tough for her to win. Thus, she went for broke to try to get the match over.
From 15-0 for Navratilova, she hit three straight winners, each of them a forehand. The last was a net cord that caused Navratilova to look to the heavens for help.
Facing two break points, she got help. Evert pushed a forehand deep, then Navratilova served a winner. That made it deuce. A moment later, Evert saved a set point with a backhand down the line. But, as Evert noted later, Navratilova came up with two big serves and had the set.
"Those were the points where I was indecisive," Evert said. "I wasn't quite sure what to do on the service returns and being uncertain made it very hard when she came up with those big serves. I had to know what I was going to do and I didn't."
Navratilova's break was vintage, as she came to net four straight times behind Evert serves. Evert, so forceful in those situations earlier in the match, just didn't have enough passing shots left.
Evert saved a break point on her next serve, but she merely was delaying the inevitable. Navratilova, serving better as the match went on, watched one more of Evert's backhand whiz by in the last game, then nailed four first serves.
On match point, Evert came up with a good return, but when Navratilova scooped a forehand volley into the corner, Evert could only run to net to offer congratulations.
"We've played a lot of matches, but that was one of the better ones," Evert said. "We both hit a lot of good shots. I was psyched up and so was she. We produced some very good tennis."
Indeed. More than that, they produced an atmosphere that simply doesn't exist in men's tennis. Once, early in the match, Navratilova tried to give back an ace because she believed her serve was long. They fought for every point, but they also hugged during the awards ceremony and acknowledged each other's brilliance.
Undoubtedly, Evert will see certain points in her mind over and over again in the next few days. But she will also know that there was no shame in this defeat. She was glorious and so was Navratilova.