LANDOVER -- The woman who must surely consider the word comeback as part of her name by now, Pam Shriver, smiled her way through the post-match interview.
Translation: She was happy with her effort against fifth-ranked Mary Joe Fernandez in the 2000/Love tennis exhibition last night, and, on a larger scale, her progress over eight tournaments this year.
There was ice on her right wrist, elbow and shoulder. She hardly noticed since this has been a fact of her life for so long.
"Yes, there were these two matches that sort of told me something," said Pam, reviewing her court travails since a shoulder operation for torn cartilage put her on the shelf for the last six months of 1990.
Ironically, one of the matches was against Fernandez at the Lipton Players Championships in Florida last month. Mary Joe won in straight sets.
"But," said Pam, "in that match and one against Martina Navratilova in Chicago [in February], I was facing players in the top five and I played them tough."
Fernandez nodded agreement: "There's no doubt Pam's on the way back. The thing now is she has to play a lot of matches."
Ah, yes, the catch 22. Matches are needed, but wins are needed to get more matches and wins don't come easily when one isn't match tough. Shriver has been a first-round loser twice and was eliminated from four other tournaments after a victory.
Pam's match record to date is 9-8 and, she revealed, "I haven't been able to win a three-setter yet. I just don't have the strength in the arm to go that far. When you're in the second set and you start thinking I have to win this and get it over, the pressure to finish quickly can get to you."
Generally speaking, Pam is putting little or no pressure on herself to get back near the top by such-and-such a date, something she had been known to do in the past.
"Mainly, I want to keep a good attitude," she said. No problem so far.
"By the end of the year, I just want to be moving up in the rankings," she said. That would mean improving on her current standing in the 60s to something in the 30/40 range.
"Then, with the start of 1992, I can erase some of the mediocre results earlier this year [from the computer] and make a solid push for the top 20 or better," she said.
Both the intermediate and ultimate goals seem extremely reasonable, especially for someone who spent most of the 1980s in the top half-dozen with a high-water mark of No. 3.
Normally, Pam's big strike could be expected to come on grass, where she's been a terror for years. "While I used to look forward to seven tournaments on grass, there are only three now. There's only about a month's time to do some heavy damage," she said with a groan.
With almost constant shoulder problems over the years, Pam has been forced to make a series of mini-comebacks, so she knows the trail well. "But," she reminded, "when you're 22 years old you know sooner or later you'll get there."
Now 28, she realizes she has to be more patient. There were times last year, during nine months of drydock for a broken toe and the shoulder surgery, Shriver gave serious thoughts to life after tennis. "But once I said 'Yes' to coming back and considering age, I realized it was going to be much more of a test than it has been in the past," she said. And thus the seeming improved attitude toward the task at hand.
Shriver rushed out to a 4-0 lead in the first set as Fernandez reacclimated herself to the indoor surface after a week of playing outdoors on the clay and the women ended up in a tie-breaker, which Mary Joe took, 7-4. They played even in the second set until Fernandez got a break in the seventh game and went on from there, 6-3.
About 3,500 were on hand in the Capital Centre for the show, which benefited the End World Hunger by the Year 2000 campaign.