Baltimore's glory days may be over U.S.OPEN

August 29, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,STAFF WRITER

The year was 1985. Pam Shriver, having overcome injuries that threatened her career, was back to No.3 in the world. Elise Burgin, having graduated Stanford the previous year, was up to No.22. And Andrea Leand, who had been ranked as high as 13th in 1982, was going off to Princeton.

If Baltimore wasn't the center of women's tennis, it was certainly close. But the three players who helped put a city known for its crab cakes and baseball team on the world tennis map believe it won't likely happen again.

"I think it was highly unusual," Burgin, now 31, said last week. "You had three players who really developed separately. I do think we had good coaching and good training. You had three people who had the talent to make it."

All three will be playing in this year's U.S. Open, but the expectations for each are no longer high. Shriver, also 31, has been slowed by a stress fracture of the foot this summer and didn't decide to play the Open until last week. Leand, 29, never got close to where she was before college, and has been a part-time player for the past two years. She received a wild-card invitation into the main draw. Burgin, who also has played only sporadically this year, failed to qualify last week and will play only doubles.

Shriver said recently that her longtime rivalry with Burgin, which started at Clifton Park when they were 9, helped push them to a level they might not have otherwise achieved. Leand benefited by having role models ranked in the upper echelons of junior tennis, as well as the fact that she practiced and played against boys as a junior.

"All three of us started in the boom years," said Shriver. "I assume the pool of players was so much bigger than it is now. I'm not sure there's a great foundation for players developing at the elite level."

Said Leand: "You could not have asked for three more competitive than the three of us. We might not have practiced against each other, but we knew what the others were doing all the time."

Burgin's longtime coach, Lenny Scheuermann, admits that junior tennis in Baltimore is at a significant disadvantage compared to programs in other areas in the country, especially those in the Sun Belt, Texas and California.

"Actually, Baltimore has a much better junior program now than it did when they were coming up," said Scheuermann, the director of the Tennis Institute at the Greenspring Racket Club. "There are more camps, more coaches. But we don't have plenty of indoor courts. Obviously, players who can play outside year-round are at an advantage."

The most prohibitive factor is cost. Beverly Dilloff, who has been involved in the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association for several years, said it costs about $3,000 a month for court time and coaching to advance the aspiring career of a top-ranked junior player. Only a small group has its bills subsidized by the U.S. Tennis Association.

"The costs of raising a junior tennis player are so outrageous," said Dilloff, whose daughter, Danielle, was ranked No. 1 in the MATA as a 16-year-old and is playing No. 3 singles as a sophomore at Tulane. "It's such an unrealistic goal. It's like aspiring to be a movie star or a model. The odds against it happening are enormous."

Jamin Thompson is trying to beat the odds. The 14-year-old from Randallstown has had an impressive year, finishing sixth in the prestigious Easter Bowl championships and fourth in the recent U.S. Hardcourts in San Antonio. He is among the top five players in his age group nationally.

While the costs of financing Jamin's burgeoning career - and three of the other five Thompson children who also play - has put a strain on the family budget, Diane Thompson and her husband, Al, a route salesman for H&S Bakery, believe that it is worth the investment.

"It's very hard, but if you want something you can get it," said Diane Thompson.

But maybe not in Baltimore. The Thompsons are planning to spend the winter at Rick Macci's tennis facility in Delray Beach, Fla. Since the Thompsons provides home schooling for all their children, there isn't any conflict.

And there's plenty of competition.

"At this level, it's hard for him to find juniors to hit with in Baltimore," Diane Thompson said.

That's not the way it was 20 years ago, when three promising players named Shriver, Burgin and Leand were were working their way through the ranks.

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