The Day Chrissie Reclaimed Paris

In the finest match of their long rivalry, Chris Evert Lloyd defeated Martina Navratilova at the French
June 16, 1985

The storm passed over Paris Saturday morning, leaving the streets wet and the winds swirling around Court Central at Roland Garros. These were the same sort of gusts that had blown up the red clay all week, leaving the players' socks sienna while their shoes stayed white; the kind of gusts that had, the day before, helped drive John McEnroe to distraction and out of the French Open. The semifinal defeats of McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, the last U.S. male survivors, extended to three decades the frustration American men have known in Paris.

Pam Shriver, Martina Navratilova's doubles partner, woke up and looked out her hotel window. The next day she and the world's No. 1 woman player would try to win their eighth straight Grand Slam doubles title and their 99th match in a row. Today, however, Navratilova would play her shadow, Chris Evert Lloyd, in the singles final, another milestone in what has become the most extraordinary rivalry of modern sport. Starting in Akron in 1973, they have met 64 times, and on this morning Navratilova leads 33-31, having won 15 of their last 16 matches. Shriver notices that the day is breezy. "Chris has a chance today," she says to herself.

Dennis Ralston, Evert Lloyd's coach, comes to Roland Garros with his charge. "Look, Chris, you can't worry that this might be your last French," he says. "Just go out and have fun, and don't be afraid to make mistakes." By twilight on the morrow, Shriver and Navratilova will have won again in doubles, and Mats Wilander will have won the men's crown by defeating defending champion Ivan Lendl. But what Evert Lloyd and Navratilova do will, at least for the moment, have a far greater impact. For the first time since the Musketeers took the mantle of French tennis from Suzanne Lenglen almost 60 years ago—Roland Garros was built for them—the place belongs to the ladies.

In almost three hours of cliff-hanging, Evert Lloyd wins 6-3, 6-7, 7-5. The two Yankettes play the best of their 65 matches—better than the Wimbledons of '76 and '78, the Australian of '81, last September's U.S. Open—and give the French something to treasure as well. And that's only fair. The French Open was played just as that much-heralded first wave of Americans descended upon Europe for this summer of '85, ogling the bare-breasted sunbathers along the Seine, jamming the restaurants and the museums and the shops.

However, Roland Garros remained all but unspoiled by the tourists. Country club Americans in London must have Wimbledon tickets. Must. But while the French Open set yet another attendance record this year—up more than 600% since 1972, with scalping and counterfeiting and all the other accoutrements of success—the tournament remains a Parisian fancy. "C'est too much," say the young French. With the tournament on national TV for hours every day, the whole country chose sides and watched when Frenchmen Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte met in the round of 16.

"What did you think?" French journalists breathlessly asked Lendl.

"I saw one set and went to sleep," he said condescendingly of Leconte's victory.

Before the two dowager queens captured the fans' fancy, the French Open belonged to yet another female. A girl. They discovered Gaby, and they loved her. Gaby est too much. During her semifinal match, they even booed the officials who dared make line calls against her. That forced her opponent, the venerable Mme. Evert Lloyd, to recall the same sort of salad afternoon in New York 14 years ago when she first appeared on the scene—as fresh and fetching as Gaby—and the crowds so cheered for her that her opponent was driven to tears right upon the court.

Gaby is Gabriela Sabatini of Buenos Aires—from a land, from a whole continent, that tolerates women playing sweaty games even less than Gaul does. After Maria Bueno, who has there been? Last year, at 14, Gaby was already junior champion of the world. Her dark eyes dazzle, her dark hair shines, and in her high boy's socks and pleated skirts, she knows exactly where athleticism meets femininity. Already she has been on seven magazine covers in Argentina. She agrees with her coach, Patricio Apey, when she hears him describe her as "an original."

Gaby has quit school and moved to a house Apey runs for young girl players in Key Biscayne, Fla. Though she understands English, she's too much the perfectionist to venture it until she can be faultless.

The day before, in the quarters, she beat Manuela Maleeva, the No. 4 player in the world and an ancient of 18. Gaby wiped her up 6-1 in the third, scampering about, catching balls on the rise, rolling the backhand into the corners, slugging forehands so hard that she left her feet. Now on Court Central, in the semis of a Grand Slam, Evert Lloyd and 16,000 Frenchmen loom before Sabatini. Might you be nervous, Gaby? "De ninguna manera," she says. "Not at all," Apey translates. Gaby smiles, hearing her own confident echo.

Evert Lloyd, in fact, is more uneasy. She has promised that her time for maternity is nearing, so she is pinched by departure on one side and Navratilova on the other. Kids who just turned 15 last month complicate things, and it got, Evert Lloyd allowed, "pretty tense" when Gaby rallied from 1-5 to 4-5, 30-all in the first set. But Evert Lloyd stabilized, moved her about, tired her out and prevailed 6-4, 6-1.

Gaby wants to go play Wimbledon now. She probably will. The players get younger, but do they ever learn? Bjorn Borg and Andrea Jaeger had to get out. Tracy Austin fell off the bicycle and doesn't know how to get back on, and the parents of Kathy Horvath and Andrea Temesvari both declare now that they were wrong to rush their girls. Where did Jimmy Arias go? Already, Gaby has jumboed to Japan to perform in an exhibition. It is the realist, not the cynic, who sees that the French are wise to celebrate Gaby so quickly.

Of all the tennis infants, Wilander, who burst upon the scene by winning in Paris three years ago, has fared the best. Since then he has enjoyed some other successes—most notably, winning two Australian Opens and leading Sweden to a rout of the U.S. in last year's Davis Cup final—but he remains fourth in the world and for long periods appears content merely to be the captain of the Swedish brigade. He lives in Monte Carlo, favors fast cars and golf during the day, music and other traditional nocturnal pursuits at night. After he beat McEnroe in straight sets in the semis, Le Terrible Mac said, "Mats has it within him to improve, but I don't think he can make up his mind whether he wants to be No. 1. He sees all the pressures associated with that and figures it might just be better to stay where he is."

Apprised of this assessment, Wilander most agreeably says that might just be the case: "I'm ready to win tournaments, but I'm not ready to work eight hours a day." He would have had to work harder in the semis had McEnroe not chosen this tournament to be like an expensive Paris restaurant—service non compris (service not included). He converted only 46% of his first serves against Wilander, and that was too great a burden to overcome.

Poor Arthur Ashe. The U.S. Davis Cup captain came to Paris to scout American clay-court players. Of the 28 U.S. men entered, 17 were gone in Round 1, eight more in Round 2. Aaron Krickstein lasted to the round of 16, where he got four games off Lendl. Connors, back using his old metal racket even as he endorses another model, won six games against Lendl in the semis. He still hasn't seen the truck that ran over him. "He didn't do anything," said Jimbo of Lendl's performance. "He just played a lot of balls back. He did nothing." This about a guy he couldn't even get a break point on. When Jimbo is done playing, he longs to be a TV analyst.

As is so often the case with the spectral Lendl, he looked prepossessing in the earlier rounds but was outmatched in the final. While Wilander has now won four Grand Slam championships before his 21st birthday, and Evert Lloyd owns perhaps the most extraordinary Slam record of all—at least one major title in each of the last 12 years—Lendl now has lost six of seven Slam finals. That's the worst record in history. Against Wilander, he won the first set 6-3, but then watched as, inexorably, Baby Mats muzzled all of his weapons. As Lendl freely admitted, he couldn't win from the backcourt, and then he couldn't win on the attack. Wilander did both, thank you, en route to sweeping the last three sets 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

But back to the main story of Paris '85: Chris-Martina 65. "It's too bad someone had to win," Navratilova said. "It was one of those matches that should go on forever." Curiously for such a gallant, well-played struggle, the match did seem as if it would go on forever. Its single flaw was that each player would loosen the reins and falter as soon as she took the lead. Never in such an outstanding match have both parties played so fearlessly while behind and so fitfully while ahead. Consider the dipsy doodles: Navratilova has game points in each of the first three games but falls behind 0-3. Navratilova wins the next three games. Evert Lloyd wins the next three and the first set.

The first set they ever played, in Akron, was a tiebreaker that Evert won. St. Petersburg was next. Then San Francisco. Rome.

The second set on Saturday started with three straight service breaks. (Navratilova would lose nine of her 16 service games in the match.) Then, up 2-1, Evert Lloyd gained a seemingly sure hold. Not only was Navratilova's serve patchy, but, ever fearful of the wind, she also was tentative off the ground. She wouldn't chance hitting for the lines and went all too often for drop shots. Just enough succeeded to encourage her to try more. All of a sudden Evert Lloyd led 4-2, 40-15.

Washington. New York. Amelia Island. Los Angeles. Philadelphia. Chicago. Paris. Atlanta.

Then, out of the blue, Navratilova's first serves started clicking. She pumped herself up and turned the set on its ear. Now it was set point for her at 5-4. But Evert Lloyd extricated herself with a backhand pass and went on to tie the set at 5-5 and break Navratilova. Evert Lloyd serves for the match. Evert Lloyd gives away serve at 15.

Curiously, the tiebreaker was standard stuff, with Navratilova winning 7-4. Naturally, momentum worshippers were never more sure of Navratilova's chances. So, for the third set in a row, Evert Lloyd broke Navratilova on her first service game.

Wimbledon. Houston. Austin. Palm Springs. Seattle. Tucson.

Afterward, Evert Lloyd said, "I just told myself that the start of a set had less pressure. So I was loose, I opened up my strokes, and I played like I was just practicing." Ultimately, that was the measure of the long afternoon, for, as Navratilova said, "I was always fighting back." She celebrated numerous little victories, exulting at each escape, but Evert Lloyd wouldn't let herself watch these displays. And she wouldn't let herself show a thing.

Navratilova caught Evert Lloyd at three-all. Evert Lloyd sighed, held and broke for 5-3. Again she was serving for the match.

Eastbourne. Tokyo. Brighton. Dallas. Phoenix. Oakland. Sydney.

For the first time Evert Lloyd permitted herself to display some of the emotion Navratilova has thrived on. She clenched her raised fists. She lost her serve.

Navratilova held serve. Navratilova won the next three points to go up triple break point at 5-5. Navratilova relaxed. "When I got ahead, I couldn't help it," she said. She chose to mess about with some of those drop shots. Evert Lloyd recovered to hold serve, and then, at last, on Navratilova's serve, she stood at deuce. She told herself to go get it. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Her forehand crosscourt dipped too much for Navratilova, who volleyed way out. Match point.

Melbourne. East Rutherford. Toronto. Key Biscayne. Delray Bench.

Evert Lloyd's backhand down the line was a knife cutting the only sliver on that side of the court that Navratilova had left uncovered. Navratilova paused, let the air out of her lungs and came round the net to hug her conqueror.

Now then, imagine them shaking hands formally at the net in Akron in 1973, when one of them was a frilly 18-year-old princess from Florida and the other a wide-eyed 16-year-old butter-ball from Prague. Imagine that. Imagine them thinking that 12 years and 64 matches later they will take Paris and hug, and Frenchmen will cheer their fool heads off.

PHOTOTREVOR JONES/ALL-SPORTHer sixth French crown assured Evert Lloyd of a major title for the 12th straight year. TWO PHOTOSJACQUELINE DUVOISINAs the final seesawed back and forth, so did Martina's emotions, but Chrissie would not let herself look at her opponent's displays. PHOTOTREVOR JONES/ALL-SPORT[See caption above.] PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINAfter battling for close to three hours, they embraced. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINBarely 15, Gaby, who's already an Argentine cover girl, lost to Chris in the semifinals. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINNavratilova and Shriver have won 99 consecutive matches and eight straight majors. TWO PHOTOSJACQUELINE DUVOISINWilander (above) is now 4 for 5 in major championship finals, while Lendl is 1 for 6. TWO PHOTOSJACQUELINE DUVOISINConnors was standing tall at Roland Garros until Lendl "did nothing" to him; McEnroe fell to Wilander when his first serve deserted him.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)