Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova are famous for having one of the most intense rivalries between two women the world has ever seen. For 16 years, the pain and glory they brought to the tennis court captivated audiences and sparked a revolution in women's sports. But off the court, what fans and critics didn't see was that Chris and Martina had a remarkable friendship. Chris and Martina are now sharing the real story that brought them together and created a lasting bond.

Back in 1971, Chris burst onto the tennis scene, and America fell in love with the fresh-faced teenager in a ponytail and ribbons. Chris made headlines for her moves both on and off the court with an engagement to tennis star Jimmy Connors the same year they both won Wimbledon. Their fairy-tale love match did not last, and Chris was linked to movie stars and even a president's son.

In striking contrast to Chris's image as America's sweetheart, Martina was born in communist Czechoslovakia. At the height of the Cold War in 1975, Martina famously left the grounds of the U.S. Open and announced she was defecting to the United States. "I didn't get enough opportunities to play as much tennis as I wanted," Martina says. Like Chris, Martina's personal life was also under at microscope—she was one of the first openly gay athletes.
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert

The champion athletes were such extreme opposites that their legendary matches were dubbed "fire and ice." Chris was known for being stone-faced and calculating. "My dad told me at a very young age, 'Don't let your opponent see how you're feeling if you're losing because they'll use it to their advantage,'" Chris says. Martina, on the other hand, openly wore her emotions on her sleeve. "I couldn't keep it inside, but nobody ever told me that I should," Martina says. "So I was pretty much on my own, at least from the neck up."

Although Chris dominated the first years of their competitions, a determined Martina whipped herself into shape, and her natural athleticism showed. "The mental side was my strength, and I wasn't the tremendous athlete that a Martina was or Steffi Graf," Chris says. "Those women could be Olympic athletes in anything that they tried." Martina, however, disagrees. "Synchronized swimming would not be something I would excel at," she jokes.

While the press loved to run stories about their rivalry, Chris and Martina say they completely supported each other off the court. "What's weird about tennis is you're both in the locker room before the match and after the match, and one is very happy and one is very sad," Martina says. "But we would put our arms around each other and say, 'You know what, I was lucky,' or, 'Next time you're going to get it, I'm sure', and, 'Are you okay?' Or we would leave notes in each other's racket bags for later."
Chris Evert talks about her life now in Florida.

Chris's Wimbledon days are over, but she hasn't left the court. Chris and her family now run the Evert Tennis Academy in Florida, where Chris is mentoring a new generation of champions. "This has been a dream of mine to have a tennis academy," she says. "It gives me enormous satisfaction when I drive up here and I see the kids passionate about a sport that I was passionate about."

Although she doesn't play tennis every day, Chris is still in great shape. "First of all, it's genetic. My mom is 80, and she looks 50. So let's just get that out of the way. And second of all, you know, I used every part of my body since I've been 6 years old, I've been a tennis player. I get all my cardio three or four times a week on the tennis court for two hours."

Chris was back in the headlines in 2006 when she went through a divorce from Andy Mill. Now, Chris has happy news—she is engaged to golf legend Greg Norman and says she has no doubts. "I think that both of us have lived long enough to know when you're ready, you're ready—when you find this connection, mentally and physically at the same time."
Martina Navratilova talks about her life in Aspen.

She still loves the game, but Martina says she now takes time to put down the racket and enjoy her home in Aspen. "I dreamt about this fabulous place that I would have in the countryside with this big meadow in front and these fabulous mountains in the background. This is almost perfect, you know?" Martina says. "Whenever anything bad happens, I just come out here, and all those problems just don't seem that big. This is as centering as it can get. This is my church out here."

Like Chris, Martina has maintained her killer physique. "The thing about being in Colorado, and particularly in this valley, is that it's easy to be healthy," she says. "Easy to eat well, easy to do exercises inside, outside. It's just heaven on earth, I think."

Martina says she doesn't need expensive equipment to stay in shape—just two dog leashes and the great outdoors.

Watch Martina's workout. Watch

Although she's happy with her life now, Martina doesn't regret her past. "I'm thankful for my past because it's brought me to this point and, most of all, thankful to tennis because it gave me a great life."
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert

Eleven years after defecting to the United States, Martina returned to Czechoslovakia for the first time to play in the 1986 Fed Cup. With her teammate Chris by her side, Martina set foot on the court as a member of the American team. "When they brought Martina out, we were interested to see how the crowd would react," Chris says. As it turns out, Chris says the crowd gave Martina a standing ovation. "And I thought to myself, 'I am so honored to be here and experiencing this because this transcends tennis,'" Chris says. "'This is bigger than hitting a tennis ball and winning a trophy.'"

Between defecting to the United States and being an openly gay athlete, Martina has been placed under scrutiny more than once and has become a role model for many. Chris says she knew Martina had guts from the moment she met her. "You lived your truth and you had a clear conscience and you felt great about yourself, so that is the most important thing," Chris says.
Coach Vivian Stringer

On April 4, 2007, radio talk show host Don Imus made a racial slur against the Rutgers University women's basketball team on air, resulting in a media frenzy and his eventual firing. Behind the grace and dignity with which the team handled the situation was their tough-as-nails coach, Vivian Stringer.

Born a coal miner's daughter, Vivian was the first coach to catapult three different college programs from underdogs to national prominence at the Final Four. She began coaching without pay at Cheney State College in the '70s, where she took the obscure program to the first women's college basketball finals in 1982.

A wife and mother with a successful career, it seemed Vivian was living the American dream. Suddenly, her 14-month-old daughter, Nina, was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, and brain damage left her unable to walk or speak.

With the support of her husband, Bill, Vivian kept coaching and moved her family to Iowa to find better medical care for Nina. As head coach at the University of Iowa, she again transformed a struggling team into a national powerhouse.

Then, tragedy struck once more when her 47-year-old husband died of a massive heart attack. Only months later, she coached the Hawkeyes to glory with her sons' encouragement. To escape the painful memory of her husband's death, Vivian moved her family to Rutgers University, where she would make history yet again.
Coach Vivian Stringer writes about her life in 'Standing Tall.'

Vivian writes about the tragedies and triumphs of her life in her new book Standing Tall. Vivian says she couldn't have made it through any of life's twists and turns—including raising a disabled child and working at the same time—alone. "Truly with God's help, with the help of my family and friends, I've been able to find refuge on a basketball court," she says.

Vivian also relied on the love of God, her family and friends after her husband's sudden death. The night before Thanksgiving, Bill collapsed shortly after returning home from the grocery store.

Ironically, 20 years earlier on Thanksgiving Day, Vivian lost her father to a heart attack—both men passed away at age 47. "My husband was my rock, you know, the reason that we could go on is because we had each other," Vivian says. "When this happened, I didn't think that I could lift my head again or speak. I found myself talking very quietly because I couldn't find myself. He was the voice inside of me that allowed me to live my dreams."
The Rutgers women's basketball team

Through triumph and tragedy, even in national controversy, Vivian says her proudest legacy is the hundreds of young women she has helped become champions on and off the court. So the racial comments Don Imus made about the team during their NCAA Tournament run came as a shock. "I was hurt. I just wanted to fight," Vivian says. "After I cried and hit the wall a lot, then I sought to find out how I can do this because I knew that I would be the mom, I would be the mentor. I would be the person that would stand up for my young women."

When the team finally met with Don Imus, Vivian said the mood was very serious and each woman told him how they were personally affected by the situation. Vivian says the meeting brought the team a sense of closure. "We can't really affect the circumstances on what does happen to us, but we can affect how we respond to it," she says. "And I thought that it was important for us to be able to forgive and to move on. Because if we devolve with it, you can imagine the anger and hurt that you continue to have."
Coach Vivian Stringer and Lani meet for the first time

As Vivian has dealt with the world around her, she has also coped with a silent, personal struggle of her own—breast cancer. When Vivian was diagnosed about 10 years ago, she kept her condition a secret from everyone in her family, even her own mother. "It was too much for my sons," she says. "They had lost their father already. We had Nina, who is profoundly disabled."

Vivian is telling her story now in hopes that it will help someone else. In fact, the only person Vivian allowed herself to open up to was a friend of a friend whom she never met in person. "No one knew what it felt like other than this person ... who I never met, but she talked to me late at night [on the phone] when I would cry," Vivian says.

Vivian says she doesn't even know her name, but Oprah does. Her name is Lani, and they meet for the first time on Oprah's stage. Lani, who has been cancer-free for 20 years, says she never knew she was talking to a legendry coach and is thrilled to finally meet Vivian. "I would tell her, 'One day, you will comfort others,'" Lani says. "I think every woman, once you have breast cancer, you live in faith and come against fear every day."
Coach Vivian Stringer and Oprah

Tragedy after tragedy, how did Vivian hold on to her faith? "I have to be honest. There were times when I was just angry and I asked, 'Why?'" Vivian says. "But I would be reminded that sometimes when we think we're walking alone, that those single set of footprints is probably God carrying us through that."

Vivian says she also had a great example of strength to follow in her father, who lost both legs to a circulatory disease when she was a teenager. Although she says she heard him crying out in pain at night, she says he never complained in the morning. "With me, when I lost my husband, while I was hurt and devastated, the truth of the matter is, you know what? I did have a job. And I could take care of my family. So how dare I complain about that?" Vivian says. "So I try to relate this to my players sometimes and I say to all of us in life, we'll have trials and tribulations. Hurts. Things that will happen. It is the consequences of things, but how do we react that makes the difference. How do we react and handle?"

FROM: Sports Legends Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Vivian Stringer
Published on December 01, 2008


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