Tuesday night, September 14 at 8 pm EDT, ESPN will air a documentary entitled, Unmatched. The film follows the tennis rivalry and friendship between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Martina and Chris discussed their relationship on and off the court for the first time. You can also read about their rivalry and friendship in an excellent book by Johnette Howard called The Rivals.
Martina and Chris represented two opposites both on and off the court. Martina was a serve and volley specialist with powerful strokes and a beautiful athleticism that was a joy to watch. She tended to be emotional and wore her heart on her tennis dress sleeve during matches. Chris was the cool baseline machine. She was steady, relentless, keeping her emotions below the surface. Martina is a lesbian who came out in 1981. Let me repeat that, 1981, when the only other woman who had come out was Billie Jean King and she did not come out voluntarily. In fact she denied that she was gay for years after.
Martina came out not long afterwards and they both paid the price in loss of commercial endorsements and popularity for a long time until the world caught up. Chris’ image was “the girl next door.” She had highly publicized relationships with Jimmy Connors and other well known male celebrities and athletes. Because her image was more sellable and more conventional, the feminine, heterosexual girl next door, she raked in the commercial endorsements. The truth was that the private Chris was a lot more x-rated than her public image, but the fans loved “Chrissy” as the tennis commentators insisted on calling her. Some media pundits called their rivalry, “Beauty and the Beast:” Martina, the gay muscular, powerhouse coached by the transgender former player Renee Richards vs. the demure self-contained, feminine Chrissy. It often seemed like the only ones rooting for Martina when they played were the lesbians scattered throughout the stadium. Martina was honored at the U.S. Open last week. It was a long time coming.
Off the court they were and remain close friends crossing sexuality, cultural and competitive boundaries. I have immense respect for both of them. I’m looking forward to hearing them talk about their relationship over the years. Check it out – Tuesday 8pm EDT ESPN.