The third set was a spellbinding tug-of-war. Even a month after the match, Navratilova claimed she could remember every point. Navratilova broke Evert's serve in the opening game and shot off to a two-games-to-nothing lead. Evert reeled her back in. All the paradoxical traits that opponents often cited about Evert her striking tendency to actually hit harder rather than more tentatively when she was down, her habit of making her conservative game less conservative under pressure were surfacing now.
Evert set her mouth in a taut thin line and tried her best to close Navratilova out. She left Navratilova swiping futilely at a dizzying array of shots backhand service return winners she struck off Navratilova's booming serve, some bulletlike ground strokes that hugged the lines, short balls that she smacked on the run past Navratilova at ridiculously sharp angles.
Navratilova stared down at the grass, muttering.
Evert won four straight games in all, breaking Navratilova's serve at love in the last to seize a 4-2 final set lead. She was now just eight points from victory. The match had assumed the familiar feel of so many of Evert's previous matches until she uncharacteristically missed a forehand. That gave Navratilova a glimmer of hope for a service break. Then Evert watched helplessly as Navratilova got her first lucky bounce of the day a ball struck by Evert that slapped the top of the net, slithered along the tape for an agonizing instant, then plopped back onto Evert's side of the court as if exhausted.
Given that boost, Navratilova inched back to 3-4, then 4-all. When Evert squandered a break point with another mishit shot, Navratilova sprinted to her courtside chair on the changeover. Navratilova was forcing Evert to play her game now.
Evert barely held serve at 5-4 in the most suspenseful game of the match, somehow running down a drop volley by Navratilova and then bending low enough on a full sprint to dig out a backhand that she daringly sent crosscourt for a winner. "That takes great nerve and great ability!" John Newcombe raved.
Evert seemed to have shoved the pressure back across the court at Navratilova. And Navratilova still holding a 4-20 lifetime record against Evert and teetering on a threshold where she had faltered so many times before gathered herself for a last furious push.
And it happened.
Over the next thirteen points Navratilova and Evert played, Navratilova surrendered only one. It was as if everything Navratilova was ever going to be or not rose up, burst forth, and found expression in her game. She was playing with a kind of instinctive confidence now. Her volleys were unerringly struck, infallibly placed. She looked relaxed. She moved to snag Evert's shots as if she could read her mind. Her serve, always a blur, became nearly unreturnable. She leveled the match at 5-all with a love service game, then broke Evert at 15-40 to pull ahead. It was as if the court were tilting to one side beneath them. Evert tossed her head, furious at herself. They were at match point now, and Navratilova dashed to the net again, driving a half volley to left frontcourt that Evert came running, running, running in to get only to see the ball skid under her racket frame and dribble away.
Navratilova cut loose a shriek at the net.
"I can't believe it," Navratilova kept saying, looking around Centre Court and repeating the words, her mouth covered with one hand. The crowd was standing and applauding. She and Evert were both smiling when they hugged at the net. Again, Evert playfully tapped Navratilova on the head as they walked off, Navratilova's head tilted against Evert's in relief.
To look at them, it was hard to tell who had won and who had lost the match.
Navratilova said, "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or scream."
Just before the Duchess of Kent handed Navratilova the 1978 championship plate on Centre Court, she quietly asked her about her parents in Czechoslovakia. Navratilova told the duchess that they had gone to a town near the German border where they could intercept the West German broadcast of the match.
"My only regret is my family couldn't be here to share this with me," Navratilova later said to reporters.
But it helped a little, anyway that her victory was a popular one. In England the next-day headlines read "The Nowhere Girl is the Queen of Wimbledon" ... "The Ecstasy of the Exile" ... "Mighty Martina!"
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