Shriver doesn't want to fade in twilight Hopes to surprise No. 2 Graf tomorrow

September 02, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- To find Pam Shriver yesterday, you had to venture beyond the stadium, pass through a mall of food stands, take a left by a practice court and squeeze into the top row of a three-deck stand of metal bleachers.

There, on Court 22, the outback of the National Tennis Center, was Shriver, once a teen-age finalist and now a struggling veteran at the U.S. Open.

She was going two sets in the opening round with clay-court specialist Noelia Perez of Spain. Perez was all topspin and baseline grittiness, while Shriver was clubbing forehands and charging the net, sometimes a step too slow, but usually right on target, on the way to a 6-2, 6-4 victory.

As she walked away from the court, Shriver took a glance back and said, "That's the farthest I've been from the stadium."

But tomorrow, Shriver will be a lot closer to the action at the Open, paired against No. 2 seed Steffi Graf.

It has been six years since Shriver was a factor in the run for an Open title. She has few illusions about her chances now. All she wants is to get in a match with Graf, start unloading serves and working Graf's backhand, and then, who knows, win a set, maybe two.

Have some fun.

"I've had a great time this summer," Shriver said. "I haven't won that many singles matches, but it has still been great."

Her singles ranking is holding steady at 33. Her Grand Slam record is spotty. A third-round run at the Australian Open. A two-round sprint into a brick wall named Jennifer Capriati at Wimbledon.

Now, Graf looms.

But Shriver has always extended her horizons beyond tennis. She made an appearance at the Republican National Convention in Houston, presenting Olympic athletes to the delegates. She was recently re-elected to a two-year term on the board of the Women's Tennis Association and earned an extra year as the organization's president.

At 30, she is clearly entering the last stages of her career. An ice pack wrapped around her right hand and wrist, to soothe her tendinitis, has been added to the post-match packs on her right elbow and shoulder.

"I feel like I could be one major injury away from the end," she said. "A knee ligament. An arm injury. But I'm not thinking about that.

"My new goal is to play to the end of my board term," she added. "When you're over 30, you have to say something like that. Nothing can surprise you anymore."

Yet Shriver would like to deliver a surprise to Graf. The last time they met was in 1988 at the Virginia Slims Championships. Shriver was coming off her gold-medal performance in doubles at the Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea. She was on a roll, rising to No. 3 in the rankings. Graf was pretty tough, too, the women's Grand Slam champion.

But when they met in Madison Square Garden, it was Shriver delivering the punishing serves and winning in the semifinals.

"I remember the date," Shriver said. "Nov. 15, 1988. It was 2 in the afternoon. What a blast. I haven't played her since. I haven't had a win of that magnitude since."

Shriver has few illusions about her chances tomorrow. She'll be on the stadium court, maybe the grandstand. A large crowd will gather. Graf will be heavily favored.

"I just want to do the things well to put myself in a position to be in the match," Shriver said. "I've seen Steffi go down to people who can serve and attack the backhand. But I'm coming off a scratch-around match on the back court. It's not like I'm on a roll or anything, saying, 'Give me Steffi Graf.' But I'll be ready."

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