On the eve of Wimbledon comes a book that explores one of the great eras of women's tennis. Beginning in the mid-1970s and lasting more than a decade, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova ruled their sport. From 1975 to '86, one or the other was ranked No. 1 in the world. They met in 80 matches, 60 of which were finals. Although in head-to-head competition Navratilova came out on top (43-37), Evert won more grand slam singles titles (18-16).
As fiercely competitive as they were, Evert and Navratilova enjoyed a fond friendship. In "The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship," author and former Washington Post sportswriter Johnette Howard explores their relationship in the context of one another and against the backdrop of a myriad of societal issues: women's liberation, Title IX, the Iron Curtain and gay rights.
The book traces and juxtaposes the careers of Evert and Navratilova from their early beginnings to their retirements, delving into how their public images -- Chris America, Martina the Bisexual Defector -- differed from their true personas. It also demonstrates the real affection the two had for each other, from Navratilova defending Evert during her divorce from John Lloyd to Evert accompanying Navratilova on her emotional homecoming to Czechoslovakia for a Fed Cup competition.
"The Rivals" is more about what happens to Evert and Navratilova off the court than on it, but Howard's description of the 1985 French Open final that Evert won is gripping.
The book loses its focus at times by spending more time than necessary on Billie Jean King, yet still manages to deliver an insightful, warm portrayal of these two tennis icons.
-- Kathy Orton