Shriver fights, but Graf moves on 7-5, 6-3 match reminiscent of '85

September 04, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Once, they gave the U.S. Open as good a match that has ever been played. It was the summer of 1985. The Grandstand Court. Pam Shriver vs. Steffi Graf.

Shriver was the veteran, a top-five player, a contender for titles. And Graf was still the shy teen-ager from Germany, her forehand a well-kept secret, the Grand Slam three years down the road.

Graf won that afternoon, in three terrific sets, all tiebreakers, the women raising their games, rackets and voices in a high-pitched drama. When it ended, there was Graf laughing, leaping into the arms of her father, while Shriver was slumped over on a chair, her face buried in a towel, the sobs echoing on the court.

"I have been asked, which one was the most memorable match at the U.S. Open," Graf said. "It is definitely that one, because it meant a lot to me. It was a thrilling match. It helped me a lot."

Yesterday, Shriver and Graf returned to the grandstand at the National Tennis Center. Only the stakes were somewhat smaller, the roles somewhat reversed. It was the second round at the Open, and Shriver wasn't so much a contender for a title as a dangerous floater.

In the end, it was Graf, the No. 2 seed, who won, 7-5, 6-3.

But this was great stuff. It felt like old times, too, with the jets swooping overhead, with rain forcing a 1-hour, 12-minute rain delay, and with fans packing the grandstand.

"I think a lot of these people have been watching the U.S. Open for 15, 20 years, and I have been playing here since the very first year it was here in 1978," Shriver said. "They have sort of seen me grow up. They felt a little sorry for me. I have never won a singles Grand Slam title. I have always been a little emotional. That helps in New York."

The crowd, as always, was with Shriver. But it wasn't enough.

Shriver, now 30, was playing with the veteran's poise, working Graf's backhand, blasting serves, scrambling around to remain in the match. And Graf, 23, was testing her shoulder, tender after millions of forehands blasted around the globe.

"There is no more of that feeling, like, oh, I hope I make it to the quarters, I hope I make it to the semifinals," Shriver said. "It's kind of like another career, almost. I am enjoying this stage a lot. I really am. But I'd like to be able to still win a match like this, once in awhile."

Shriver gave Graf fits. There aren't many serve-and-volley players left on the women's tour, and Shriver's attacking style is like some sort of sharp-edged relic -- quaint at first glance, but awfully dangerous up close. "You know that it's never going to be an easy match against Pam," Graf said. "She is going to try to do everything to win the match."

Shriver also had to ignore some pain. Moments before the first game, she swatted at a bee, and was stung on her right hand. "You know, my mother got a bee sting recently and had an allergic reaction," Shriver said. "I was starting to get out of breath and was starting to think about that. But I realized that it was just Steffi pushing me around the court."

Shriver shoved back, too. All that separated her from Graf were two service breaks. Still, she is out of the Open singles, while Graf moves on.

Shriver now talks of playing doubles with Martina Navratilova, of trying to keep her career on course for at least two more years. And Graf talks of winning another Grand Slam title, of ending her season as the champion of Wimbledon and the Open. "Do I look at myself being the No. 1 of the year?" Graf said. "I have heard that one before. No, I don't."

For Shriver, ranked No. 32, there is no return trip planned to the top five of women's tennis. But for a day, she was able to give this Open a few exhilarating moments. It wasn't like the summer of 1985, when Graf nearly broke Shriver's heart in those tiebreakers. But it was close.

"I still hung in there for a couple of more years in the top five," Shriver said. "But she was on her way up, passing me, passing everyone else. Everyone knew this kid was something special that comes around maybe once every 10 years. I remember that match well."

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