Shriver, Navratilova have made the most of their differences

DIVERGENT DYNASTY

November 24, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

They were different. Opposites, really. Martina Navratilova, the left-hander from Czechoslovakia who used tennis as a passport to the West. Pam Shriver, the right-hander raised in an upper-middle class household in the suburbs of Baltimore.

One became the pre-eminent singles player of her time, perhaps even of all time. The other made a fleeting appearance in one Grand Slam final as a 16-year-old, and then spent the rest of her career trying to recapture the moment.

One registered as a Democrat and covered the left side of the court. The other was a Republican, who remained planted on the right.

Together more than a decade, they played hundreds of matches, yet socialized rarely. Their on-court conversations were brief and sometimes comical, but the important decisions in their joint career often were discussed over the telephone.

Navratilova and Shriver weren't merely doubles partners content with getting in a few sets of practice and earning some spare cash. They were after history. In a sport grounded in individualism, they showed others what could happen when two players displayed teamwork in its purest form.

Tonight, perhaps for the final time, Navratilova and Shriver will play a set of doubles in the First National Bank Tennis Festival at the Baltimore Arena. Also appearing in the exhibition are Gabriela Sabatini and Mary Joe Fernandez.

Earlier this month, Navratilova and Shriver disclosed they were ending their on-again, off-again doubles partnership.

And then, when Navratilova announced after Sunday's Virginia Slims Championships final that next year will likely mark her final season of full-time singles play, she began the most difficult journey for any player: the long goodbye.

Navratilova's singles career is well documented. The nine Wimbledon titles, 18 Grand Slam triumphs and 161 tournament championships.

Less is known about Navratilova's doubles career with Shriver.

They weren't just a team, they were a dynasty.

Together, Navratilova, 36, and Shriver, 30, won 20 Grand Slam doubles titles.

They won 79 of the 104 tournaments they entered and finished with a won-lost record of 390-25.

They won 109 consecutive matches from April 1983 to July 1985.

"We've set records that it's safe to say will never be broken," Navratilova said.

And it all started with a phone call in October 1980, a few weeks after Navratilova and Billie Jean King had defeated Shriver and Betty Stove in the U.S. Open doubles final.

"Martina called and asked me to be her partner," Shriver said. "I was stunned. I had no idea it was coming."

Just like that, the partnership was made. Not even a handshake.

"I knew Pam could play doubles," Navratilova said. "And I liked her. She was fun and personable. Good to be around."

In the beginning, it was just an experiment. Little did anyone know that a tennis monster was being created.

They won their first tournament in January 1981, in Chicago, and their last in March 1992, in San Antonio.

They beat opponents by serving and volleying. They kept crowds laughing with quick one-liners. They were the best show in women's tennis.

"I play a touch game as well as hit the ball very hard," Navratilova said. "Pam is a solid one, setting the point up and never really missing anything. I think our best strength is our second serve. We had an excellent second serve. In doubles, people get in trouble when their serve doesn't get in."

They also had a lot of fun.

Usually, it was the throwaway lines that drew the biggest laughs from the crowds at Wimbledon, or Flushing Meadow, or even Mahwah, N.J.

"In doubles, you have to have the ability to laugh," Shriver said. "If it was straight, serious, no-nonsense stuff, we wouldn't have lasted that long."

But there was pressure to perform, too, most of it on Shriver. Lose, and the blame, at least the way Shriver saw it, would fall on her shoulders.

TH "If we lost a lot, I would have heard from people, 'Oh, it's not Mar tina's fault,' " Shriver said. "I felt we had to do well, or it would be a reflection on me."

The strange thing was, when their 109-match winning streak came to an end in the 1985 Wimbledon final, it was Navratilova who absorbed much of the blame. She still recalls missing two forehand volleys and twice losing her serve in the third set against Liz Smylie and Kathy Jordan.

"I should have had those volleys," Navratilova said. "They were just sitting there."

After the match, Shriver and Navratilova headed to the locker room, began reminiscing, and cried.

They would win other titles together. They would dominate other rivals. But it would never be the same. In the summer of 1989, Navratilova decided it was time for a change. She called Shriver, then on a fishing trip in Canada, and broke the news.

"I figured, well, Martina isn't calling to find out about the fish," Shriver said. "I got her on a radio phone. And she told me I needed to take six months off and we need new partners. That was tough."

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