NEW YORK — It was raining bugs on a hot, humid evening. The runways facing Court 3 at the National Tennis Center were crammed with fans rushing into Louis Armstrong Stadium to see the night matches. The lights were flickering.
But Pam Shriver didn't mind. She was stuck on an outer court last night against Rika Hiraki of Japan, and she was going to win a first-round match at the U.S. Open, 6-1, 6-1.
"I kept saying to myself, 'Put blinders on, Pam,' " Shriver said. "I didn't want to look. You wait all day to play, you get out on to a court at twilight, and the officials tell you that you're going on to a court where the lights aren't up to standard."
Blinders on, Shriver ignored the couple that was arguing in the second row of the aluminum bleachers. She didn't even notice the guy who dropped a $4.50 baked potato and cursed. But on a changeover, she couldn't help but feel the tap on her shoulder.
"I didn't look up and figured maybe the person would go away," saidShriver, of Lutherville, Md. "It was a ball boy. He was telling me that this little girl from Special Olympics was sending me 'good luck.' It was 6-1, 3-0. It was adorable. But I had to keep on concentrating."
The U.S. Open is filled with such distractions. But somehow, the top players survive.
The women's seeds routinely advanced yesterday. No. 4 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario overwhelmed Katia Piccolini, 6-0, 6-1, No. 5 Mary Joe Fernandez defeated Larisa Savchenko, 6-3, 6-3, No. 6 Martina Navratilova defeated Patricia Tarabini, 6-2, 6-2, and No. 8 Conchita Martinez defeated Cecilia Dahlman, 6-1, 6-1.
For others, there were small struggles played out on the back courts. No. 9 Jana Novotna sullenly worked her way back after a second-set letdown and beating Ann Grossman, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. No. 12 Zina Garrison survived a few anxious moments before putting away Sabine Appelmans, 7-5, 6-4.
Elise Burgin of Pikesville, Md., idle in singles since losing in the Wimbledon qualifying tournament, was beaten by Kimberly Po, 6-4, 6-4.
"I'm up three games in each set and I lose and there is no excuse for that," Burgin said. "I practiced hard and I worked hard and I played fine and I really wanted to win. But it's not easy. You start running out of time."
Time may be Shriver's most precious commodity, but she keeps parceling out the minutes and the hours, dividing her energy between her career and charity. As if she doesn't have enough to do, Shriver had added another course to an already crowded plate.
Sunday, she was named as the President of the Women's Tennis Association, a players' union with the clout to emerge as a strong voice in the operation of the sport.
"Let's face it, I was vice president for eight years, I wasn't going to turn down the nomination," Shriver said. "They figured someone who worked that long deserved it."
So while overseeing her comeback from shoulder surgery, Shriver will have added political responsibilities. She succeeds Chris Evert as WTA President and her one-year term could be tumultuous.
The women players are pressing for equal pay at all four Grand Slam tournaments. While the U.S. Open and the Australian Open pay men and women equal prize money, the French Open and Wimbledon do not.
There also is a festering dispute over the Grand Slam Cup, a season- ending event that is currently for the men only. A women's event hasbeen proposed, but again, equal prize money is a sticking point.
"The biggest issue we face isn't really over money," Shriver said. "We have to try and get the younger players to know about our organization and to get them involved. Without the top players a union isn't very strong."
Shriver said one thing she can guarantee is strong leadership. Voted off the board two years ago, she said she has learned the art of compromise. She wants to make friends and push an agenda to strengthen the union.
"We can work well together," she said. "All the spokes of the
wheel are running fine."