If you are a Martina Navratilova fan, you look at her 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Chris Evert Lloyd in the Wimbledon final as evidence that she has regained the undisputed No. 1 ranking she might have lost to her chief rival at the French Open.
If you are a Chris Evert Lloyd fan, you look at the surface it was played on -- grass, Martina's best -- and the number of sets it took -- three -- and offer those as definitive corroboration of Chris' remarkable renovation.
Different angles of the same view.
Yes, Navratilova is slightly ahead on points.
Yes, Evert is strong enough to go the full 15.
What Evert has done over the last year -- rebuilding her game to the level where she once again can compete tenaciously with Navratilova -- is exceedingly rare, if not unprecedented.
In 1982, Evert yielded the No. 1 ranking to Navratilova. Perhaps yielded isn't the right word. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that Navratilova cut through the women's tour like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From 1982 through 1984, Navratilova won 254 matches and lost only six. The jewels in that crown were 13 straight final-round victories over Evert. In 1984, after beating her, 6-2, 6-0, on clay -- Evert's best surface -- at Amelia Island and 6-3, 6-1 on clay in the French Open, it was assumed that Navratilova had left Evert so far behind, she'd need binoculars to see the taillights. Whatever Navratilova was driving was going at a speed Evert couldn't touch.
Finding himself in a similar position after John McEnroe began to beat him like a drum, Bjorn Borg quit rather than be a comfortable No. 2. "I understand a lot of that," McEnroe said earlier this week. "It's difficult to be No. 1 and have that happen a lot, and know you're not going to get any better."
That's the bottom line, isn't it? That when you're already a veteran champion and you are passed by a younger player like that, you know your time at the top is gone because you know you're not going to get any better.
You get passed, you move over. The slow lane forms on the right.
So it seemed that Evert had these choices: Play on as a decidedly distant No. 2; it had been done before at lower numbers by as great a player as Billie Jean King. Phase out. Start a family like Evonne Goolagong. Maybe retire altogether.
Or, get better.
Having realized at age 29 that she was unable to hold back the tide -- that she was strong enough emotionally, but not physically -- she decided to rebuild from the ground up. As great a champion as she'd been, and we're talking about seven years ranked No. 1, the game that got her there first wasn't the game that would get her back again. She needed only to look at Navratilova to see the state of the art in tennis: power.
And for the first time in her satin and lace career she went into a gym and determinedly worked out with weights. It was power she was after, the power to hit the ball hard enough to make Navratilova pay when she charged the net, the power to meet force with force. Nobody ever doubted Evert's competitiveness. Faye Dunaway in "Network." Ice Queen on the outside, assassin on the inside. Christine Marie, all she wants is every point. But how many owners spring for body and fender work on an old car, and how many try to just keep her running?
The first test came here, last year. Evert broke Navratilova the first two times she served, and took a 3-0 lead in the first set. She lost, 7-6, 6-2, but jumped the hurdle. At the U.S. Open, Evert lost again, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, in a match that was so close that Evert said she was "devastated" by losing, a reaction that would have provoked laughter two years before. Evert finally broke through in Florida last January, beating Navratilova on cement, 6-2, 6-4. Navratilova won their next two meetings, but Evert had that inspiring win at the French last month, 6-3, 6-7, 7-5. A major.
She'd done it.
At 30, at an age when most tennis players are slip-sliding away, Evert had retooled her game and actually gotten better. It was a two-car race again.
"I really needed to win that one big match against her," Evert said. "She knows when she walks onto the court with me, it's not a sure thing anymore."
Evert conceded the psychological advantage to Navratilova earlier this week, saying, "I think she's a little more eager. Whenever you lose a big match, champions bounce back." And Navratilova didn't deny the incentive, or the hot breath on the back of her neck from someone catching up. "In the French, I thought I'd win if I just played average," Navratilova said. "I knew if Chris played really well today, I had to play better."
How much did the victory mean?
When Navratilova was asked if this win was one of her most satisfying, she answered quickly: "The!"
You think she'd say that if she'd beaten Mandlikova? Rinaldi? Garrison? Maleeva?
Wherever they go. Whatever they do. They always go through it together.
Through thick or through thin. All out or all in. And whether it's win, place or show.
Chris: It's you for me.
Martina: And me for you.
Together: We'll muddle through, whatever we do. Together, wherever we go.
Since 1973, they have played each other 66 times, with Navratilova now holding a 34-32 lead. And to show you how far above the rest of the women's tennis field they tower, the last 24 times have been in finals.
"Chris and I are just ahead of the field," Navratilova said.
How does "galaxy" sound to you?
Obviously, there is no reason to expect them not to play this scene for as long as they're both still wearing sneakers. Evert has won one major this year on clay; Navratilova one on grass. Next up is the U.S. Open. On cement. "I'm looking forward to playing her on hardcourt," Evert said, her smile so cold you could chill wine with it.
Champions bounce back.
See you in September.