It’s not just Ashe-Connors or McEnroe-Borg. Tonight Macau TV brings me Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova, Wimbledon finals, 1978. The one, like McEnroe-Borg three years later, looks quite retro. Evert, then 23, still has baby fat. Navratilova — 21 years old, pre-blonde, pre-defection to the US, pre-out, pre-chic — has very dark chestnut hair and a clunky Eastern Bloc look. Both women use wooden rackets.
Why look at these old matches, given my previous protestation that sports is worth watching only if you don’t know how things turn out? Because there is a different kind of real-time tension built into the matches.
We know, watching decades later, what the outcome means. Navratilova — who, as I watch, is down one set — will soon rally to win the match, the first of her nine singles championships at Wimbledon. Evert will never beat her at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open from this point on. But neither she nor Navratilova knows that as they struggle for control of the third set, just as Bjorn Borg doesn’t know, while battling John McEnroe in 1981 (in the match shown last night), that even though he has won the past five Wimbledon championships plus six of the previous seven French Opens, he will never win a Grand Slam title again. Watching with this extra knowledge, is a little sad — but interesting.