The two of them, Chris Evert, the lithe, 17-year-old American, and Evonne Goolagong, the coltish, carefree Australian just reaching 21, had played but once before—at Wimbledon in July where Evonne won. But there were many last week at Shaker Heights, Ohio who chose, even before Chris' three-set victory in their Sunday meeting, to regard all Goolagong-Evert matches as part of a series of classic duels continuing over the next 10 or 15 years, as another round in a stirring tennis rivalry perhaps made of the same immortal stuff as the Helen Wills Moody-Helen Jacobs battles of the '30s. One hyperenthusiastic Cleveland sportswriter even went so far as to compare Goolagong vs. Evert to Palmer vs. Nicklaus, Grant vs. Lee, Lincoln vs. Douglas and Cain vs. Abel.
The setting around the second meeting of the girls was almost as interesting as the great expectations which preceded the match. Their duel was part of a new team competition between Australian and U.S. women, the first of what is intended to be an annual series.
The idea for a U.S.-Aussie challenge was hatched by a Cleveland cosmetics entrepreneur, ebullient Jess Bell. In a blinding stroke of sales promotional genius, Bell sold the idea to the tennis powers of the two countries, promised to underwrite any major losses incurred and coolly arranged to have this latest international tennis competition called The Bonne Bell Cup Ladies Challenge Match.
There were no cash prizes, and several top U.S. women pros, including Billie Jean King, turned down invitations to play. So the U.S. fielded the same team that had upset England in this year's Wightman Cup—Miss Evert, Patti Hogan, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Wendy Overton and Linda Tuero. They are by no means the nation's strongest combination, ranking nationally third, ninth, 11th, 14th and eighth. The Australians, however, shipped in a very strong team, led by Goolagong, Wimbledon winner in 1971 and runner-up to King there this year, and by magnificent, muscular Margaret Court, 30, winner of more Big Four championships than any woman now playing (34). Court chose the Bonne Bell Cup for her return to world competition after more than a year away during which she gave birth to a baby boy.
Unfortunately for Mrs. Court, the first match of her comeback was against Chris Evert. The day was hot, the playing surface quite slow and Mrs. Court's furious serve-and-volley big game was not large—or sharp—enough to intimidate the American, who won 6-3, 6-3.
Earlier, in the opening singles match of the challenge, Evonne positively overwhelmed Valerie Ziegenfuss 6-4, 6-0, and the teams were tied after the first day. On Saturday the Aussies won the singles match between Misses Kerry Melville and Overton. Then, to the delight of Cleveland's Immortal Rivalry fans, the doubles drawing pitted a team of Goolagong-Lesley Hunt against Evert-Patti Hogan. The Immortal Rivalry proved to be mortifyingly mortal on this day. The Australians won easily, 6-1, 6-3.
That made the score 3-1 for Australia as Sunday's competition began. The first singles match paired Mrs. Court against Miss Ziegenfuss. And whatever suspense may—or may not—have been building over which country would hold the Cleveland cosmetician's silver cup for the next year was quite swiftly erased as Mrs. Court won 6-1, 6-1. Her victory left the Immortal Rivalry to be played for its own intrinsic thrills.
The personal and playing contrasts between the two girls have been described and doted over long and perhaps quite often enough. Miss Goolagong is marvelously tough when she is concentrating, but given to absentminded lapses. Miss Evert is nearly an automaton on the court: grim, relentless, humorless. It was fitting that Sunday's match occurred at Harold T. Clark Stadium, for it was there, just over a year ago when she was only 16, that Chris Evert burst on the world tennis scene. She won two singles and one doubles matches to give the U.S. a 4-3 Wightman Cup victory and begin a streak of 46 consecutive match victories over the ensuing six months.
However much a breathless press and a panting public inflated the rivalry between the girls last week, neither seemed to feel that they were exactly walking in the footsteps of U. S. Grant and R. E. Lee. Evonne said casually to the press, "I'm really quite relaxed about this match, probably because we have already played before." And Evert said, "Well, I take my competition with Evonne seriously, but that only really means that I want to beat her like anyone else. Our rivalry is something that's built up by other people."
As the match began, the crowd was stonyfaced and still as if in a cathedral. Then bursts of applause began to multiply as the girls became locked in a series of long, tense rallies. Evonne characteristically showed ghastly lapses, double-faulting a number of times and dumping shot after shot into the net during the first set. Chris was typically steady and won 6-3. In the second set Miss Goolagong displayed enormous power, particularly with her cross-court backhand, and won 6-4. At that moment the match looked to be a reasonable facsimile of the girls' confrontation at Wimbledon.
But once the third set began, the resemblance vanished. In a shocking turnabout, Miss Evert simply overwhelmed the oddly docile Miss Goolagong. The crowd could scarcely believe its eyes as Chris combined surprising power with her usual precision to win 6-0.
Although another doubles match remained to be played, much of the crowd filed out of the stadium, satisfied. Had they witnessed an Immortal Rivalry? Perhaps so. Although most of them would probably agree that the contest was not as uplifting as Lincoln vs. Douglas or as thunderous as Grant vs. Lee, still it was infinitely more entertaining than anything Cain vs. Abel had ever produced.