AP Was There: Navratilova tops Evert for 1st Slam title

FILE - In this July 7, 1978, file photo, tennis star Martina Navratilova holds up her trophy after defeating Chris Evert in the women's singles final at Wimbledon. (AP Photo/File) (Anonymous, AP1978)

EDITOR’S NOTE — Tennis history is filled with wonderful rivalries, and so many are remembered because of matchups in Wimbledon finals. The AP is republishing stories about a handful of such matches while the canceled grass-court Grand Slam tournament was supposed to be played. One memorable tennis rivalry featured Martina Navritlova against Chris Evert. They met an Open era-record 80 times and each won 18 Grand Slam singles titles. The following story, about their first meeting in a Wimbledon final, was sent July 7, 1978.



AP Sports Writer

Stateless Martina Navratilova, who left her Communist homeland to play tennis in the west, fulfilled her highest ambition Friday by defeating Chris Evert 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 for the singles championship at Wimbledon.

The Czech left-hander — “I shall always be Czech, no matter,” she said — came from behind in the final set to win one of the closest Wimbledon women’s finals since World War II.

The tennis was not the greatest ever seen on center court, and in the end, the match was decided by errors. But the duel swung back and forth and kept the 14,000 fans in doubt until the last shot.

They could be in store for another see-saw battle Saturday when defending champion Bjorn Borg takes on Jimmy Connors in the men’s final. The Swede crushed the American last year but only after fighting through five grueling sets.

Navratilova, 21, won a first prize of $30,780 and vindicated her decision, made three years ago, to quit her country to further her career. She still must wait another two years before she can become a U.S. citizen.

“She has been through a lot of hurt and loneliness,” said Evert, the girl who befriended her when she first settled in America. “But she is tougher than I am at this point, this week.”

Navratilova’s powerful serve-and-volley game made her an obvious candidate for success on Wimbledon’s grass, although this was her first appearance in the final. But when Evert — twice a Wimbledon champion — went from 0-2 to 4-2 in the final set, it seemed that her coolness and experience would prevail.

Navratilova’s volleys brought her back into the match, and at 5-5 the incredible happened. Evert, the ice-cool slugger who keeps going forever from her baseline, suddenly lapsed and hit four straightforward shots — three forehands and a backhand — out of court and dropped her service.

That left Navratilova needing only to hold service for the title, and she did it without dropping a point. In fact Evert scored only one point in the last three games.

“If I was going to lose, I didn’t want to be tentative,” Evert said afterward. “I kept attacking and going for my shots.”

From the start, Evert’s task was to keep her opponent, a formidable volleyer, away from the net. But it was at the net that Navratilova won her most valuable points.

The Czech grew more confident at the net after a shaky start. In the first set, she won points with eight volleys and lost on eight. In the second, she won on 13 volleys and lost on nine, and in the final set, she stabbed 13 volleys home and failed with eight.

Evert set a pattern for the tentative match by dropping the opening game in each of the three sets.

It was played in a friendly atmosphere. The women argued with the umpire and wanted to give each other a point when a line call was disputed. Evert reached across the net and patted her rival when a ball hit her on the ear. At times, the tennis seemed to lack competitive edge.

But it came to life in spasms. Some of Navratilova’s volleying brought to mind Billie Jean King in past years. Evert aimed some beautiful passing shots down the line.

The unseeded American pair of John McEnroe and Peter Fleming surprisingly made it to the final of the men’s doubles.

The American youngsters defeated the second-seeded team of Tom Okker and Wojtek Fibak 1-6, 6-3, 9-7, 6-4, and the cheeky McEnroe finished in style — with an ace.

Billie Jean King and Ray Ruffles will meet Frew McMillan of South Africa and Betty Stove of the Netherlands in the mixed doubles final Saturday. With a victory, King could get her 20th Wimbledon title, breaking the record she now holds with Elizabeth Ryan, who played from 1914 to 1934.