SPORTS COLUMN: BEST OF RIVALS AND FRIENDS, THEN AND ALWAYS.

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1SPORTS COLUMN : BEST OF RIVALS AND FRIENDS , THEN AND ALWAYS .
2`` That 's a woman thing , '' Chris Evert was saying the other night .
3Evert was talking about the bond between her and Martina Navratilova , which grew only stronger as they played each other an incredible 80 times .
4Eighty times .
5Between the two best players of their age .
6This sense of awe goes way beyond nostalgia into a sense of wonder over glory days when two charismatic giants graced the courts .
7There has probably never been a friendship between rivals to match the one between Evert and Navratilova .
8Their relationship has been touchingly captured in a documentary , `` Unmatched , '' for the ESPN series 30 for 30 , which will be shown Sept. 14 .
9As the U.S. Open begins Monday , both women remind us to see the big picture , to acknowledge our colleagues and even our competitors , to tap our racket over somebody else 's shot , to respect the other , whatever the other may be .
10Chatting before a preview in New York , Evert said the `` woman thing '' came from Billie Jean King , who convinced younger players they had a stake in building women 's tennis .
11Evert does not take credit , but she also brought the ethics of her family into the locker room , where she smiled -LRB- maybe to intimidate , but also to greet -RRB- at the newcomer from Czechoslovakia .
12At that first tournament , in 1973 in Akron , Ohio , Evert looked through the recently acquired pounds and saw the athlete who could beat her .
13In the documentary , Evert takes a deep breath and confides to the camera that Navratilova , at her best , was better than Evert at her best .
14It takes Evert-like guts to make that admission .
15She also won 37 of their 80 meetings .