For Burgin, it's tennis advantage or a new racket

JOHN EISENBERG

November 26, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

So what's it going to be, law school?

"Well, 'L.A. Law' is my favorite show," Elise Burgin said.

But . . .

"You want me to trade this nightmare for that one? I don't think so."

OK, we understand. What about television?

"I'd love it. I could have my own talk show. My morning gossip show. I could be out there with Oprah."

But . . .

"Somehow, I don't think that's going to be it."

No, probably not. But then what will it be, Elise? What now after seven years on the tennis tour, seven years of seeing the world and living out of a suitcase -- what do you do when you're 29 and feel the end coming?

"Well, I guess the first thing I'm going to do is get a resume together. That should be interesting. What on earth do I put on it, 'semifinalist, French Open'? "

You'll figure it out, Elise. We have faith. You went to Stanford. You never were one of those ultra-serious, too-tunnel-visioned athletes. Even when you were in the top 30, you were one of us. A Baltimore girl, warm, funny. Just happened to be a terrific tennis player.

"And it's funny, but I could go on making a good living playing tennis. I could play doubles another four years. Doubles would always be there. And I know I could play singles if I made the commitment. After the [U.S.] Open, I spent a couple of weeks working on just singles, and I entered a $25,000 tournament in Salisbury and made the finals. My first final in two years. That told me there was something still there."

So why don't you keep playing? Why all this angst?

"Well, first thing, understand I'm not saying I'm retiring. I still might play next year. I'm just going to spend the next few months looking at other things I might want to do. The time is right to explore."

Because?

"Don't get me wrong, tennis has been the greatest experience anyone could have. I've seen things I never would have. The positives far outweigh any negatives. But sometimes I catch myself sitting there waiting to play going, 'Ugh, what am I doing? Isn't there more to life?' "

Pardon the very amateur psychoanalysis . . .

"It's OK. I'm partial to that myself."

. . . but it sounds as though you've grown beyond it all a little. We know you don't want to discuss your mother's death in a car crash in 1988, but it probably hastened all this, right?

"Well, my life did a complete flip turn. I had to grow up. I took on responsibilities I'd never anticipated. It had an effect on my tennis. You need that tunnel vision, and I didn't have it. I don't FTC know if things happen for a reason, but something tragic like that certainly can push you on to the next part of your life."

OK, so what's it going to be? You've been active in tennis politics since 1985 . . .

"I've been the treasurer of the [Women's Tennis Association]. Treasurer for life, it seems like."

. . . and the game's off-court people think you're the greatest. Couldn't that lead to something?

"I hope. Tennis has been an incredible learning tool. I have a million contacts. I don't know if that leads to the marketing end, or sports management, or the corporate end, or public relations. Whatever. Maybe television. That'd be great.

"I just know I'm a people person, but I don't know what I'm suited for. That's what I want to find out. Some people have approached me. It's weird, I haven't put a sign around my neck or anything, but people in the game can sense where you are in your career. So people come up and say, 'What are you going to do?' "

We don't want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds as if you would take a job if the right one came along.

"Well, I'd think real hard about it. Because another part of this is settling down. Having a family. The tennis lifestyle isn't conducive to sustaining a relationship. So it all kind of goes together. The dilemma is to keep playing and postpone putting all this together until I'm 33 or 34, or to take it on now and be comfortable when I'm 33 or 34."

We get the picture. But as much sense as it makes to look around now, we know it's going to be brutally tough when you do stop playing.

"Wow. You're talking about giving up playing in front of 15,000 people who are telling you you're the greatest thing alive. It's not easy giving that up. I can't imagine another kind of work that gives you the instant gratification a pro athlete gets. All those people telling you you're wonderful."

That's all great, but isn't the game different now from even five years ago, when you peaked in singles?

"I grew up using a wooden racket. My game is style, touch, spin, finesse. Today they learn to play on their Prince graphite zoomie whatever. It's all power. And these kids, they get delivered out of the womb right onto the court, and they're already good."

So when the No. 1 player is 17, it's time to get out, eh?

"Well, now I've been spending all this time in these WTA meetings and I come out with splitting headaches saying to myself, 'Are you crazy? You want this when you could be playing tennis around the world for four more years?' So I don't know. It's going to be an interesting couple of months."

Sounds like it.

"Hey, you know what I really like? Radio. I love doing radio."

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