WIMBLEDON, England -- The last time Pam Shriver played singles on Centre Court at the All England Club, she was ranked fifth in the world. She might as well have been 500th, the way she played that day against Steffi Graf in the 1988 semifinals of Wimbledon.
"I felt naked," she said of the straight-set blowout by Graf.
Today, feeling fully clothed and almost fully capable, Shriver returns to the biggest stage in tennis, looking to upset sixth-seeded Jennifer Capriati in a second-round match of the 106th Championships. It will mark the first meeting between two players who represent different generations and play different games.
It's the serve-and-volley finesse of Shriver vs. the bash-from-the-baseline power of Capriati. It's a 29-year-old whose star has faded against a 16-year-old whose priorities have changed drastically since she beat Martina Navratilova here in the quarterfinals a year ago.
"I'm looking forward to it," Shriver said Tuesday, after coming from down 1-6, 1-3 to beat Elena Brioukhovets of the Ukraine in the opening round. "It's nice to play the top players. I got to play Billie Jean King as I was coming up and now I'm playing Capriati. I'm like a bridge."
Shriver, who has played well on grass of late, hopes this bridge extends into the third round. Currently stuck in a holding pattern since her return from shoulder surgery two years ago -- she is ranked 32nd -- Shriver could use her match against Capriati as a gauge to measure her comeback.
And she will use her return to Centre Court as a means to bury her disastrous semifinal losses there to Graf in 1987 and 1988. In losing four straight sets, Shriver won a grand total of five games. Though she has won big matches there before -- including an upset of Tracy Austin in the 1981 quarterfinals -- the losses to Graf are still fresh in Shriver's mind.
"In 1987, I had no arm left after going 10-8 in the third the day before," she said. "In 1988, I was annoyed that I was the only semifinalist not to have a look at Centre Court before I played there."
This time, she is in relatively good physical shape, considering she's been playing professionally for nearly as long as Capriati has been alive. But her opening-round match did not make for any grand delusions.
"My confidence might come back [against Capriati]," said Shriver, "and it might not."
While Shriver has been looking forward to her match on Centre Court against Capriati since stepping off Court 3 Tuesday afternoon, it doesn't seem to be that big a deal to the phenom.
After her opening-round victory over 16-year-old Chanda Rubin, Capriati was asked about Shriver. She stared blankly, then rambled on about, "It's great that she's playing, if that's what she wants to do." Capriati had no idea Shriver was her next opponent.
"Is that who I'm playing?" she asked.