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Monday, September 13, 2010
Navratilova, Evert share 'Unmatched' rivalry


Beyond the friendship, the recollections, the triumphs and the heartbreaks, the unconventionality shines through: This documentary has no narrator, no guiding, disembodied voice to nudge the viewer in a certain direction. There are no extraneous interviews, no journalists or so-called experts to influence opinions. Gone is the drudging voice-over-action, in place are two women, just hanging out on a New York beach, rehashing old memories, and talking about tennis and stardom.

But, when placed in the context of the similarly unconventional friendship profiled on the screen, the distinctive format of "Unmatched" makes sense.

The latest film in ESPN's "30 for 30" series features a bond nearly impossible to forge in the current sports world of Twitter spats and character-bashing trash talk, an unbreakable friendship formed out of a fierce rivalry. Eighty times, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert met on the courts and, through it all, two of the greatest female tennis stars in history remained inseparable.

When "Unmatched" airs Tuesday night, viewers will get a rare glimpse into the suddenly aligned worlds of Navratilova and Evert, worlds that, throughout their battles, competed on the same plane but resided at polar extremes.

At least on paper, the two are near-total opposites: Navratilova the left-handed European lesbian with the fearless net play and the one-handed backhand; Evert the All-American righty, armed with a two-handed backhand, married to All-American men.

Ties don't exist in tennis, just ask John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. For 43 of the 80 -- eighty! -- matches, Navratilova came out on top. Both, however, retired with 18 Grand Slam championships, and they now share the screen together, intoxicating the viewer with the promise of eternal companionship, the opportunity to find a lifelong friend who fully understands the experiences of the other.