It was billed as the rivalry to end all rivalries, except one, because it is now apparent that Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova will play on into eternity, into the next life, the next dimension, onto some high-stakes exhibition in a parallel universe--bleachers filled with three-headed tennis junkies screaming for a third set.
This week at Wimbledon, Evert and Navratilova were matched again in something resembling a sequel to the old "Saturday Night Live" skit that had Evert going to the ends of the earth, even scaling a mountain peak, to get away from her forever hovering archrival, never to any avail.
Tuesday, Evert was at Center Court to provide television commentary for the Jennifer Capriati-Serena Williams quarterfinal.
So was Navratilova.
Evert, working for NBC, marveled that her old foil was still knocking forehands around on the lawn, playing her way into the women's doubles quarterfinals.
"Martina, at 44, is still one of the best doubles players out there," Evert said. "Without a doubt."
But for Navratilova, doubles at Wimbledon was just a cardiovascular workout between broadcasting assignments for TNT. By the time Capriati and Williams were ready to step out for their quarterfinal, Navratilova was suited up with headset and microphone, same gear as Evert, commenting on the same match to be aired the same day by another network.
In the broadcast booth, they match up pretty much the same way they did on the court.
Evert is cool and poised, never breaking a sweat as she mixes it up from the back--a sharp critique here, a subtle and glib aside there. Finesse is her game, and she is very easy on the ear.
Navratilova is very much the technician, focused on the details, such as wind direction and a player's success rate from the far service court. Somewhat rough around the edges, she's a tireless and relentless hard worker, never afraid to roll up her sleeves.
Typical was how they handled the developing story of Williams' physical condition, which worsened as the match progressed as Williams lost seven consecutive games during the second and third sets.
Evert took a detached, almost skeptical view of the situation.
"I'm sure she has an upset stomach," Evert observed, "but she was getting run all over the court. She's exhausted." And, after Capriati rallied for the three-set victory, Evert quipped, "To have [squandered] chances like that in the second set would make anybody sick."
Navratilova played it as hard news--and was the reporter with the scoop. She beat NBC to the news by revealing Williams' "bellyache" with the score tied, 5-5, in the first set. NBC's tandem of Ted Robinson and Evert first made mention of Williams' upset stomach midway through the second set.
"I found out in the locker room," Navratilova announced, prompting TNT play-by-play broadcaster Mary Carillo to underscore, "You might be the first person in England to know about the bellyache."
But, not content with simple victory, she moved in for the rout. During the fourth game of the second set, Carillo touted Navratilova's scoop again, informing viewers that "Martina found out just minutes before" the match.
No, Navratilova corrected, "I found out yesterday."
Evert rallied on style points, spraying around candid observations on players who rush play in between points (very "annoying"), Williams' track record in big matches ("Serena has choked a few matches in her career") and Capriati's rare display of fist-pumping emotion in the third set ("Is that Jimmy Connors or Jennifer Capriati out there?").
But the winner on this day was TNT because it had Carillo, ever informed, opinionated and equally adept in the role of play-by-play commentator or color analyst. If you had to draw up "dream-team" broadcasting crews for tennis, you'd pair Dick Enberg with John McEnroe on the men's side and Carillo with Carillo on the women's.
As Williams left the court for a "bathroom break" during the third set, Carillo lent some badly needed perspective to an issue too many in media tip-toe around.
Carillo said, "You know, the pity of this whole moment here is that the Williams sisters, and especially their father, say so many things that people don't believe any of this. They're saying, 'What's the deal here?'
"Everything Richard Williams says, I mean, let's face it, we all have to take it with a 500-pound grain of salt. The sisters often have to kind of mop up after him. . . . Now these fans, an awful lot of them are thinking, 'This is gamesmanship.' It's not. That kid is sick."
Next, Radiohead to Perform 'Kid A-Rod'
Now, about TNT's obsession with Andy Roddick, an 18-year-old kid who hasn't won much of anything yet, but is given superstar treatment because--I can only guess here--he's photogenic, he hits hard, he wears his cap backward when he plays and . . . oh, right . . . he's American.
It was embarrassing enough for TNT's Jim Courier to take young A-Rod on a solemn, hushed-tones tour of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, asking the kid if he was ready to see "the cathedral."
But what in the world was Courier doing in Abbey Road studio, strumming his acoustic guitar and crooning a syrupy "tribute" to Roddick and his stirring run into the third round (!) with such groan-inducing lyrics as the kid debuting on "the same court as his age," Court 18, of course?
I could say more, but suddenly, I find myself moved to verse.
Johnny Mac played guitar
But the strings on his racket
Are what made him a star.
To sing a song of Jimbo, or Lendl,
He'd have to be delirious.
But a Wimbledon ode to Roddick?
You cannot be serious.
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What Los Angeles Is Watching
A sampling of L.A. Nielsen ratings for June 30-July 1:
Over-the-air Channel Rating Share Tennis: Wimbledon 4 3.9 12 Golf: PGA Greater Hartford Open 7 2.4 7 Boxing: Ice Cole vs. David Boston 9 1.4 4 Baseball: St. Louis at San Francisco 11 1.2 3
Cable Network Rating Share Baseball: Dodgers at San Diego FSN2 1.9 4 Horse racing: Hollywood Park Today FSN2 0.9 2 Track: Golden Gala at Rome ESPN 0.7 2 Baseball: Kansas City at Houston FX 0.6 2 Tennis: Wimbledon highlights TNT 0.6 2 Boxing: Johnny Tapia vs. Cesar Soto Showtime 0.5 1
Over-the-air Channel Rating Share Golf: U.S. Senior Open 4 3.4 9 Tennis: Wimbledon highlights 4 3.3 9 Golf: PGA Greater Hartford Open 7 1.9 5 Horse racing: Hollywood Park Today 2 1.2 3 Auto racing: CART Grand Prix of Cleveland 7 0.8 2 Auto racing: SCCA Grand Prix of Cleveland 2 0.6 1
Cable Network Rating Share Horse racing: Hollywood Park Today FSN2 0.8 2 Baseball: New York Mets at Atlanta ESPN 0.7 2 Soccer: World Cup qualifying, U.S. men at Mexico ESPN 0.7 2 Auto racing: Busch Grand National FX 0.6 2 Women's basketball: Miami at Sparks FSN2 0.5 1 Baseball: Cubs at Cincinnati WGN 0.4 1
Note: Each rating point represents 53,542 L.A. households. Cable ratings reflect the entire market, even though cable is in only 63% of L.A. households.
Look Who's Talking
Sports figures to be featured on TV and radio, today through Thursday:
Pete Rozelle--"SportsCentury," tonight, 5 and 8, ESPN Classic
Jesse James Leija, David Reid, Cedric Kushner--"Rich Marotta's Neutral Corner," KXTA (1150) tonight, after Dodger talk.
Cedric the Entertainer, Tony Twist, Jillian Barberie--"Last Word With Jim Rome," tonight, 5:30 and 11:30, Fox Sports Net
Hank Greenberg--"SportsCentury," today, 4 p.m., ESPN
Sparky Anderson--"SportsCentury," tonight, 5, ESPN
Benny Agbayani--"This Week in Baseball," Saturday, 11:30 a.m., Ch. 11
Penny Toller, Sarah Fisher--"Irv Kaze Show," Saturday, 6-7 p.m., KRLA (870)
Steve Yeager--"Southern California Sports Report," Saturday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Bob Lorenz, Trev Alberts, Irving Fryar--"NFL Preview," Sunday, 7 a.m., CNN
Johnny Unitas--"SportsCentury," Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN
Pete Rose--"Beyond the Glory," Sunday, 8 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Mo Vaughn--"Southern California Sports Report," Sunday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Janet Evans--"Southern California Sports Report," Monday, 10:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Alexi Lalas, Paul Caligiuri--"Southern California Sports Report," Tuesday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Tyson Chandler, Shannon Miller--"Southern California Sports Report," Wednesday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports Net