Chris Evert knows a thing or two about tennis rivalries and she’s noticed something about Serena Williams’ career: The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion has not had much in the way of rivals.
Evert knows that her series of matches through the years against Martina Navratilova — including five finals at Wimbledon, which should be happening right now but was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic — provided compelling contrasts in playing style and backstory.
“We were like night and day. She came from a Communist country. I came from the ‘land of freedom.’ She was fearless. I came from this Catholic family, and I was fearful. Everything was different about us. We really brought along the groups of fans for the ride,” Evert said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “People loved me and hated her or they loved her and hated me. People took it personally when we played.”
With Williams, in contrast, the player she’s faced most often is her older sister, Venus — 30 matches so far, 50 fewer than Evert vs. Navratilova. So, Evert reasoned, maybe their all-in-the-family matches don’t generate as much “cheer for one side or the other” emotion as other tennis rivalries tend to.
Other opponents who might have offered that element — Maria Sharapova, say, or Justine Henin or Sloane Stephens — don’t have a volume of work, or wins, against Serena that’s compelling. Stephens is 1-5 against Williams; Sharapova went 2-20; Henin trailed only 6-8 but that included just one Grand Slam final.
“Maybe it shows,” Evert said, “that Serena is just too good for everybody.”
Some top women’s tennis rivalries in the Open era, which began in 1968:
MARTINA NAVRATILOVA VS. CHRIS EVERT
Meetings: 80 (Navratilova, 43-37); Grand Slam Finals: 14 (Navratilova, 10-4)
Highlights: Navratilova’s first Grand Slam singles title — she and Evert both wound up with 18 — came via a 7-5 third-set win at Wimbledon in 1978; Evert’s 7-5 third-set victory in the 1985 French Open final is widely considered among the finest matches in tennis history.