Pam Shriver could have quit.
Her shoulder ached. Her tennis was dreadful. A game that once enchanted her was tormenting her. Nothing was fun. Not the travel. Not the matches. And, most certainly, not the losses.
With $4 million in career earnings, Shriver had the money to retire and live comfortably. Who needed to play some gawky teen-ager armed with an oversized racket and a ubiquitous agent at Hilton Head or Houston, when down the road in Washington, George Bush was inviting her to the nation's most exclusive private court for a few sets of mixed doubles? Hey, wasn't it time to grow up, to put the career back in the closet next to all the beat-up rackets and out-of-fashion shirts and skirts?
"The wheels just fell off the cart," Shriver said. "I didn't know what I wanted to do."
That was last year. Now, 11 days short of her 29th birthday, Shriver is in the midst of a comeback from shoulder surgery. But, this time, she is having fun, vowing to shrug off short-term losses to secure long-term gains. During months of inactivity, Shriver said she rediscovered the joy of tennis. She missed the game. She wanted to play. Most of all, she wanted to win again.
"I haven't wavered from my decision to come back," she said. "Not one day. I'm pleased with my decision and proud of my work ethic."
When the Wimbledon fortnight begins tomorrow at the All England Club, Shriver will be something of an unseeded pest, a three-time semifinalist rattling around in the bottom of the women's draw. Her greatest victory is just getting back into shape and back on to the tour. She is an athlete now safely beyond a crossroads.
"Where do I begin?" Shriver said. "So much has happened."
Once the world's steadiest No. 4 player, Shriver's career began to bottom out after a peak in November 1988 -- a semifinal victory over Steffi Graf at the Virginia Slims Championships in New York. Shriver headed to the Australian Open in January 1989 with renewed purpose, but was discouraged by a third-round loss to Catarina Lindqvist.
"I got home to Baltimore, and I was being pulled in 80 different directions," Shriver said. "I was working on various boards for charities; I was trying to put together my own charity tennis event; the fax machine in my house was running all day. I was also fascinated that I knew the president. I was interested in political issues. Mentally, I just cracked. I thought that I could not do all of this and still be a top 10 player."
Still, she persisted in trying to juggle her interests on and off the court. Once again, her confidence was damaged on the court after a second-round loss to Sara Gomer at Wimbledon. "I said I felt like retiring, and I should have kept my mouth shut," Shriver said. Her 1989 Grand Slam season ended in humiliation when she was ousted in straight sets in the first round of the U.S. Open by Larisa Savchenko.
"That's as close as I've come to tanking a match," she said. "I just didn't care. That night, I went up to Chris Evert's suite. Remember, that was her last U.S. Open. Here I was, so emotional, it was sick."
The slide continued. Finally, in March 1990 at the Virginia Slims of Florida, she kicked a chair during a match against Dinky van Rensburg, broke a toe, and was sidelined for six weeks.
Back home in Baltimore, she prepared to play Wimbledon. But her right shoulder, which has bothered her throughout her career, began acting up. Two days before leaving for England, she decided to have arthroscopic surgery to repair torn shoulder cartilage. The procedure was performed June 7 by Dr. Charles E. Silberstein, the orthopedist for the Baltimore Orioles.
"You serve, serve and serve, it loosens the joint, and then you tear cartilage," Shriver said. "Now, I have to exercise to keep the shoulder strong, sort of like tightening a screw."
Shriver's recovery has been slow. At the Australian Open in January, she reached the third round, losing to Anke Huber. During a break before Wimbledon, she embarked on a rigorous physical fitness program after consulting with sports physiologists in Indianapolis.
"I was so spastic at first," she said. "They did a videotape of me doing some exercises, and it was awful. Believe me, there is no cheating in this program. They have everything on tape. I'm not Steffi Graf-quick yet. But I'm improving. A step here. A step there. If I didn't take another angle at trying to improve something, I'd get frustrated."
Her game remains unchanged. Shriver is a pure serve-and-volley player, lethal at the net, but unable to turn a chip backhand into an offensive weapon.