Someday, when Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina Navratilova stop playing tennis, people are going to look back on their classic rivalry and pick out the matches that were special.
Their 69th meeting, today in the French Open final, earned a place on that special list. It may have been the loser, Navratilova, who best explained why.
"I played better today than I did last year here," Navratilova said after Evert's 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory. "If I had played this way last year, there's no doubt in my mind I would have won the match. I thought on a scale of 1 to 10 today, I was about an 8. But the last two sets, she was a 10."
By playing so superbly in the last two sets, Evert won a record seventh French Open, a record 18th Grand Slam title, a record 148th tournament and made it a record 13 straight calendar years with at least one title in tennis' Big Four events.
"I know I don't show that much emotion, but inside I'm thrilled," Evert said. "I think, coming in here, not many people gave me a chance. Everyone was talking about Martina and Steffi Graf and saying Hana Mandlikova was playing better. Then they would say, 'Oh, Chris. She'll make the semis.' Last year when I beat her here I was really happy because I hadn't beaten her in so long. This year, it's no fluke."
Last year's French final is considered by many the most dramatic women's tennis match ever. That day, the two dueled three hours through a dozen momentum changes and enough "crucial" points to last a season. Evert called it her greatest victory.
Today's match did not have the dramatic tension of that one when no one, including Navratilova, gave Evert any chance. Today, everyone thought she had a chance, until she played a horrendous first set, double-faulting four times in the first two games she served.
"Nerves do funny things to you," she said. "I was pushing the ball and I was serving horrible. It wasn't until I got up 3-1 in the second set that I felt into the match."
The crowd at Roland Garros Stadium, hoping for a repeat of last year's brilliance, was firmly behind Evert as she came back. Both women had to fight the conditions, a swirling wind and a cloudy day in which the sun was a constant tease, showing up for a few moments to bathe the stadium in light, then disappearing.
"I thought the last two sets the wind affected Martina more than it did me," Evert said. "She hits so much topspin and in wind like that it's hard. But we both had to make compromises in our games."
Navratilova may have compromised too much. Buoyed by Evert's troubles, she played a strong, confident first set, whipping through it in 30 minutes. Evert's prospects hardly seemed bright. It had been six years and 30 matches (Wimbledon 1980) since she had dropped a first set to Navratilova yet won.
But when Evert began nailing her ground strokes, Navratilova seemed to hesitate. Instead of charging the net at every opportunity, she held back, seemingly fearful that another Evert rocket would whistle past.
"It was hard to come in," Navratilova said. "She was playing to my backhand a lot, and when I chipped it and tried to come in she passed me. I think that may have been the best she's hit her passing shots in all the matches we've played."
Once the first set was over, the rivals settled into a groove, raising the level of the tennis as the match wore on. Evert seemed able to pick her game up another notch each time Navratilova did. At one point in their careers, Evert could not have done so. But, at 31, she somehow is playing better than ever.
Her first important break came in the fourth game of the second set. At 15-30, Evert rapped a forehand pass crosscourt to reach break point. She followed by charging in on a backhand down the line and punching a volley past Navratilova for a 3-1 lead.
"Once I started really hitting out on the ball, I got really confident," Evert said. "But also, I sensed that she wasn't overconfident. She wasn't coming in all the time like she's done sometimes against me. That really helped me feel good about my chances."
They stayed on serve until Evert served for the set at 5-3. This was the moment when Navratilova had her best chance. If she could break, it would sting Evert's confidence and, if she then held for 5-5, Evert might be in trouble. Navratilova quickly got to 0-40, getting to Evert's drop shot and chopping it down the line for a clean winner. Three break points.
But Evert escaped.
First, she came up with a good serve, came in and hit a forehand crosscourt. One down. Then, somehow, she produced her only ace of the match. Two down. Finally, Navratilova got a second serve and came in. Evert cracked a backhand. Navratilova didn't even move. Three down.
Evert relaxed a moment and hit a backhand wide. Break point four. Evert whacked a forehand and came in, a surprise. Navratilova's backhand floated and Evert dropped it just over the net. Four down. A moment later, Evert had set point and Navratilova's backhand approach sailed long. One set all.
Shaken a little, Navratilova opened the final set with two errors. She paused, took a deep breath and gave herself a brief pep talk. And she reeled off seven straight points, gave Evert one point in the second game, then broke to lead, 2-0.
"The next game was the only one in the match I really regret," Navratilova said. "I rushed a little. If I had gotten up 3-0 . . . "
Instead, Evert got to break point with another solid backhand and, after Navratilova saved one break point with a lovely lob, she pushed a forehand deep. Earlier, Navratilova had argued a couple of line calls, annoying Evert. This time Evert reached down with her racket to show her the mark.
"It was no big deal," Evert said later. "I did get a little upset when she questioned a call and I told her it was out and she still questioned it. I think she knows I'm fair about that and she's fair about it. We were both nervous, maybe a little bit testy."
Evert quickly held at love to even the match and then both women held for 3-3. At that juncture, Evert played a textbook game to break: she nailed a backhand pass; hit a forehand Navratilova reached but couldn't return, and ran down a strong Navratilova volley and scooped a forehand winner down the line. Right then, for the first time in the match, Evert shook a fist.
Break point. This time both stayed back and Navratilova cracked first, hitting a backhand wide: 4-3, Evert.
She held for 5-3, punching her fist again after a forehand volley won that game. The crowd was into it now, urging her on.
Quickly, it was match point, Navratilova netting a backhand at 30-all. But Navratilova came in behind a good backhand and smacked a winner. Evert answered with a gorgeous return. Match point two. This time, Evert got a short ball, hit a forehand and came in.
But the forehand stayed up just a little and Navratilova boldly smacked a backhand for another winner. That one might have haunted Evert. But after saving a game point, she got one more chance by running down a low backhand and hitting one last textbook passing shot.
"That was the best example of the way she played," Navratilova said. "I hit a good shot and she gets it, swings and hits a line drive."
Match point three. Evert did not want this to drag on. She got one more short ball and came in. Navratilova hit the ball at her feet. Evert delicately scooped it just over the net. Navratilova charged and got her racket on the ball, but not enough. The ball popped into the net.
There was no hug, like last year; no shriek of joy from Evert. They had played just under two hours instead of three. But as they walked to the victory stand, the warmth between them was still there.
When Evert paused a moment, not sure who should go up the steps first, Navratilova pushed her forward, guiding her, just as Evert had stopped Navratilova from leaving Centre Court at Wimbledon last year without the expected curtsy.
Still friends. Always rivals.
A disputed call on a double fault gave Czechoslovakia's Tomas Smid and Australia's John Fitzgerald the men's doubles championship, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7, 14-12.
At 12-13 and advantage to Fitzgerald-Smid, and twilight closing in, the service judge changed his mind and called a second serve by Sweden's Anders Jarryd long for the championship point. The point had been played and won by Jarryd and Stefan Edberg. Jarryd and Edberg protested, but chair umpire Claude Richard declared the match over.