Someday, they will be gone.
Someday, a new champion will emerge in women's tennis. But right now, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd still burn with the desire to be No. 1. As long as they continue to feel that way, the rest of the world will be playing for No. 3.
Saturday, they will play the final at Wimbledon (WRC-TV-4, 9 a.m.) for the fifth time. Navratilova has won all four finals they have played here and eight of the 11 grand slam finals they have played. But Evert won the most recent one, the classic French Open final four weeks ago.
So, Navratilova wants revenge. Evert wants to prove the French victory wasn't just a last gasp. Evert is 30 and as intense as she ever has been. Navratilova is 28 and just as eager. They are two of the greatest champions in history (Evert 17 major titles, Navratilova 11) and they will play this match as if it is their first big final. "Anytime you have a loss, you're going to be very keen to get back," Evert said. "I think Martina's really ready this week."
It is a measure of their dominance that neither has lost a set in reaching the final here and the final at the French. It is a measure of the greatness of their rivalry that if Evert were to win this match, the record would be 33-33 after 12 years.
The last time these two played in a non-final in a grand slam event was the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 1981. Navratilova won that match, taking the third set, 7-5. She then lost the final to Tracy Austin. That was the last time someone other than Evert or Navratilova won a major title. Navratilova has won nine -- including the last three Wimbledons -- Evert has won five.
Navratilova claims no special feeling for this tournament as a result of her loss in Paris. "Wimbledon is always very special for me no matter what," she said. "And playing Chris is very special because we've had such a great rivalry. But I had lost to her before Paris."
But her previous loss to Evert in a major final was the 1982 Australian. And Evert's victory came one year after Navratilova had so thoroughly beaten her on the same court (6-1, 6-3) that many thought Evert never would beat her in a big match again.
Now, they have split their last four matches. Each talks about retiring in the not too distant future. Evert says she might play another year. Navratilova says she will assess her future at 30. Each has said the other provides motivation and it is difficult to imagine one playing very long without the other. After the French final, Navratilova said, "I hope Chris sticks around for a couple of more years."
So does the rest of the tennis world. Someday, Gabriela Sabatini and Steffi Graf might ascend. Someday, others will walk to Centre Court carrying the traditional flowers in their arms.
"Playing a major final is always special," Evert said. "You're always a little nervous walking out there. It's different. It's the final, you have the flowers . . . "
Her voice trailed off. She didn't need to say anything more. It is Evert-Navratilova. And it is special.