Forty-year-rewind: Navratilova edges Evert, secures Martina Slam

Navratilova overcame her biggest obstacle in a victory for the ages in Paris

Chris Evert Martina Navratilova Roland-Garros 1984© FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Chris Evert started a legendary run in 1974, winning her maiden major title on the Parisian clay. Dubbed the ‘Queen of clay’, Evert would go on to capture a record seven Roland-Garros titles, but her momentum was stopped – at least momentarily – in 1984 by a rising force who simply would not be denied: Martina Navratilova. 

Thus another chapter of the greatest rivalry in women’s tennis history was written. 

The pair would meet 80 times in a fifteen-year span, their head-to-head starting unremarkably in 1973 with a meeting, on carpet of all surfaces, in Akron in the round of 16 (won by Evert). 

Chrissie and Martina would meet 22 times at the majors and five times on the fabled clay of Roland-Garros, with Evert winning the first meeting, the 1975 final, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. 

Nine years later it was Navratilova’s turn to exact revenge, in the 1984 final. Martina had won the previous three Grand Slams, and was bidding to become the first woman to win four consecutive major titles since Margaret Court in 1970, but to do it she’d have to go through the indomitable Evert, the record holder for most consecutive wins on clay with 125. 

In her prime years Navratilova also knew a thing or two about being invincible, and she was that day, cracking her way past top-seeded Evert 6-3, 6-1. 

Evert had no weaknesses

“That was one of the best wins for me,” Navratilova said. “Because number one, I completed the four majors in a row, got a pretty good bonus ($1 million), but it was about beating Chris on clay in Paris. 

“I had done it in other places on clay but never in Paris. Yeah, that was a hard out.” 

Both Navratilova and Evert finished their careers with 18 major singles titles, but it was Evert (72-6 lifetime at Roland-Garros if you're scoring at home) who was virtually impossible to stop on the clay in her prime. Navratilova says that 1984 was special not because of what she did, but who she did it against. 

“She had no weaknesses,” Navratilova recalls. “She moved beautifully, and then she had the drop shot when she got you on your heels. She's well inside the baseline hitting drop shots and you never even had a chance to run for them.

“Most of all, she just didn't miss. So it was hard not to beat yourself because she just got everything back and then she could attack, as well.” 

The challenge of facing – and overcoming – Evert on the terre battue in 1984 provided Navratilova with more self-confidence. At the US Open later that year she notched her sixth consecutive major title, a feat that has not been repeated by any player. 

It was a dominant phase of Navratilova’s career, and she remembers the feeling of invincibility fondly. 

“I made bigger headlines when I lost a match than when I won Wimbledon or the US Open,” she said. “It was a pretty cool feeling, because you almost forget how to lose in a way. There were some matches that I should have lost, but you just kind of played by memory, and you don't believe that you can lose and because of that you don't.

“And then the other player knows they have to play something special, and most of them couldn't do it. It was a pretty cool feeling.”

Evert et Navratilova se disputent une nouvelle finale à Roland-Garros en 1986FFT

The 1984 match between Navratilova and Evert marked the first of three consecutive Roland-Garros finals for the rivals and great friends, with Evert taking the next two in three sets. 

In 1987 Navratilova defeated Evert for the second time in Paris, taking her out 6-2, 6-2 in the semi-finals before falling to Steffi Graf in the final. 

Not about the money

In 1984, Navratilova claimed a million dollar bonus for winning all four Grand Slams in succession. But it wasn’t the money that the Hall of Famer was after. 

“I made history for myself and for tennis because the four in a row, whether it's calendar year or not, has not been done that many times,” Navratilova remembers. “You just know that you're not going to have that many chances if ever again. That brings more pressure into it.

“Then there was the money involved, which was a nice bonus, amazing bonus.

“But it was not about the money for me. It was about winning the four in a row. I was just happy that I overcame the pressure and played my best tennis against the best player that the clay has ever seen on the women's side.”