This is a review of the latest ESPN “30 for 30″ documentary, “Unmatched” on the rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. The two dominated women’s tennis from the mid-1970′s through the late 1980′s. Evert and Navratilova played each other 80 times, Martina held the edge, 43-37, but both have won the same amount of Grand Slam titles with 18. They even won two doubles titles together, the 1975 French Open and 1976 Wimbledon. While their rivalry has been well chronicled, what has been, is their friendship.
As with previous 30 for 30 documentaries, there’s no narrator. Directors Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters have Chris and Martina talk about their friendship and rivalry. It’s probably the best way coming from their sources directly. And often, the two are in the same shot talking to each other. Both are relaxed and share a laugh. It’s easy to see why they’re friends and how they became friends.
The documentary traces their beginnings, Chris came from an upper middle class family in Florida. Her father pushed her to play tennis at an early age. And while Chris was easy going at first, you could see the competitive edge come out later. She admitted that she would get angry and break rackets during practices, a habit that her father would stop. Thus, Chris stopped showing emotion on the court and not allow her opponents to get an edge.
Martina grew up in communist Czechoslovakia. Her parents divorced when she was three. She eventually took the name of her stepfather who became her first tennis coach. At age 18, Martina decided to defect from her native country and asked for political asylum in the United States, a very bold step for a teenager.
From there, Chris and Martina were embroiled in one of the best rivalries in sports. At first, the two were friends. Evert had the upper hand in the rivalry. Martina came to the US and gained 20 pounds seeing that food was in abundance. When they first played in a tournament in Akron, Navratilova admitted that she was out of shape and Chris ran her all over the court. Evert said she knew if Martina got in shape, she would be a real threat. This would come into fruition.
Some interesting things that came out in the documentary. Chris saying she was the tough one. While the media portrayed Evert as America’s Sweetheart, she had a tough exterior and interior. Martina would show her emotions on the court, often crying after an emotional match.
In addition, Chris said she ended her doubles relationship with Martina feeling Navratilova was learning her game and using it to beat her. Chris now admits that was a mistake. And Evert said she wished she could be more like Martina.
The documentary only touched on the period when Martina had Nancy Lieberman train her to become the number one ranked player in the world. It was during this time where the friendship was interrupted. Lieberman told Navratilova that in order to be number one, she had to hate Chris and they could no longer be friends. I would have liked to have seen more time spent on this, but it was blown through very quickly.
Throughout the documentary, we see some personal photos of the two and it climaxes where Martina returns to her native Czechoslovakia to take part in a Federation Cup match in 1986, at this point, she has become an American citizen. She’s welcomed back to her country with open arms and takes Chris to her hometown. It’s a very warm moment.
Overall, a very good documentary. Hannah Storm produced the documentary and this is very good effort by the 30 for 30 crew. My grade, B+.