Tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova forged one of the greatest sporting rivalries of all time. However, their on-court rivalry blossomed into a lasting friendship that has endured through life's challenges, including their simultaneous battles with cancer.
Their friendship began as teenagers, when Evert, an already accomplished player approached 16-year-old Navratilova on her first trip to the United States. Initially, Evert dominated their rivalry, winning 16 of their first 20 encounters.
However, as Navratilova began to narrow the gap, their bond became strained when Evert put an end to their doubles partnership as she felt their closeness was affecting her competitive edge.
“I separated myself from her,” Evert admits in an interview with the Washington Post.
“Chris, by her own admission, could only be close friends with people who never had a chance of beating her,” Navratilova chimed in.
However, their friendship was revived as the pair continued to challenge each other on the tour, having contested 60 finals against each other over the course of their careers.
“We were the last two left standing. I saw her at her highest and at her lowest. And I think because we saw each other that way, the vulnerable part, that’s another level of friendship," Chris Evert said.
Having known each other for 50 years, Navratilova highlighted their deep understanding.
“She knew me better than I knew me. I’ve known Chris longer than anybody else in my life, and so it is for her," she said.
On Navratilova's 60th birthday, Chris Evert gifted the 18-time Grand Slam champion a Cartier necklace featuring three rings of white gold, symbolizing their enduring friendship.
“I guess I’m kind of the guy in our relationship, giving her jewelry,” Evert joked.
In January 2022, Evert received the news of her ovarian cancer diagnosis, leading her to undergo a rigorous six cycles of chemotherapy treatment.
Navratilova revealed that during that time, she wore the necklace gifted to her by the American religiously, only taking it off when seeking treatment for her own breast and throat cancer diagnoses in December 2022.
“I wore it all the time when I wanted her to get well. I finally had to take it off when I got zapped,” she joked.
“Our lives are so parallel, it’s eerie when you think about it" - Martina Navratilova on Chris Evert
Chris Evert disclosed that Martina Navratilova was one of the first people she called after learning about her cancer diagnosis.
“She was one of the very first people I told. When I called her, it was a feeling of, like, coming home,” she said.
Navratilova acknowledged the "eerie" parallels in her and Evert's lives, from their fierce on-court rivalry which saw them both win 18 Grand Slam titles, to their post-retirement transition to commentary and their shared battle with cancer.
“Our lives are so parallel, it’s eerie when you think about it,” she said.
In January 2023, Chris Evert shared the news of her cancer-free diagnosis. Meanwhile, Martina Navratilova received the all-clear from her doctors in June 2023.