I can’t remember the last time I gave a show an unqualified recommendation — maybe never. But I say this without reservation: watch Unmatched.
The latest installment in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, Unmatched, is a wonderfully intimate look at the rivalry and, more importantly, the friendship between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
Honestly, I’m having trouble finding words for how much I love this documentary. Perhaps we should start with the trailer.
Chris and Martina met for the first time on a tennis court 37 years ago. Only a few hundred spectators watched Evert, then 18, beat 16-year-old Navratilova. Chris knew that Martina was an aggressive player, but she notes that the Czech teenager was about 20 pounds overweight.
“I remember that she was fat,” Evert recalled. “She was very emotional on the court, whining if she didn’t feel she was playing well. But I remember thinking, if she loses weight, we’re all in trouble.”
Navratilova had dreamed of playing Evert, but had a simple wish for that day: “My goal was for her to remember my name.”
Not only did Evert remember her name, she also came to be one of Navratilova’s closest friends and confidants. The rivalry between the two was always intense, but the bond that developed over the years grew out of the underlying respect they had for each other.
The pair’s differing styles and outward personalities were played up by the media, with Navratilova usually portrayed as the villain. She talks candidly about her difficulties with that image and attributes much of it to her openness about being a lesbian.
Unmatched comes from twin filmmakers Nancy Stern Winters and Lisa Lax, along with ESPN’s Hannah Storm and an all-female production crew. But the film is strictly Chris and Martina — their words, their voices, their perspectives.
Winters explains, “The intention was literally like Thelma & Louise. They go away for a weekend, they talk about the good old days, and after watching it, you feel like, ‘God I wish I had a friend like that.’”
Unmatched premiers Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN with a repeat showing at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN2. For the full schedule, visit the Unmatched website. If you’re a fan of friendship, don’t miss it.