Martina Hingis, as cool as the Alps in her homeland, was near perfection, having lost only two matches all year. At 16, she reigned over all.
Venus Williams, red-white-and-blue hair beads clacking at every turn, was 17 and playing in her first U.S. Open and her first title match as a pro.
Although Hingis won easily, capturing her third Grand Slam title of 1997, there was talk this could be the start of a long rivalry in women’s tennis.
The same thing was said when, as teenagers, Steffi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini first faced each other. By the time Sabatini took early retirement, they had played 40 times, Graf winning 29.
Not the stuff legends are made of.
Take it from someone who knows: There never will be another Chris and Martina Show. So says Martina Navratilova, one-half of one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
“There never was another like it, and there never will be another,” Navratilova says.
Chris Evert and Navratilova met 80 times from 1973 until 1988, with Navratilova earning a 43-37 edge. On grass, clay, carpet and hardcourt, they fought, usually with a title awaiting the winner.
“A one-on-one confrontation over a span of 15 years or more, and we were one and two in the world,” Navratilova says. “The two greatest players of all time on the court at the same time going at it.”
Evert is enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. Navratilova, the biggest winner in the Open era, is a cinch to join her in 1999, the first year she’ll be eligible.
Navratilova won 168 singles titles, including nine Wimbledons, and 165 doubles crowns, spending 223 weeks ranked No. 1 on the WTA Tour computer.
Evert wasn’t far behind, winning 157 singles titles. Jimmy Connors tops the men with 109.
“They talk about the Dodgers and the Giants or the Redskins and the Cowboys, but those are team sports,” Navratilova says. “It’s not the same.
“Golf has had some rivalries, but it’s different. The only other sport that can compare with tennis, going one-on-one, is boxing. And how many times did Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fight? Three?
“We played 80 times.”
Evert has said the rivalry was “real special because we have a lot of respect for one another and we’re friends.”
“If the rivalry was an unfriendly one or a bitter one, I think I’d have bad memories,” she said.
Navratilova believes the women’s game would have had a natural rivalry between Graf and Monica Seles, but injuries to both have made that matchup rare and them rarely in top form.
“That means Martina Hingis is without a peer,” Navratilova says.
While Navratilova believes no pair will battle as long as she did with Evert, she sees Hingis having a rivalry with several other youngsters, including Williams, 16-year-old Anna Kournikova and 15-year-old Mirjana Lucic.
Hingis, today’s top-ranked player, was named for Navratilova, and the veteran calls the Swiss youngster “awesome.”
“She doesn’t have a plan,” Navratilova said. “She’s not afraid to play anything on the court.”
Navratilova is also impressed with several other young players. She called Williams “a raw talent, a great athlete.”
But she noted both No. 1 players - Hingis and Pete Sampras - are far ahead of the competition.
“It’s still Sampras and the Seven Dwarfs,” she said, “and it’s Hingis and the Seven Dwarfs.”