Shriver not quite ready to call it a career bTC

September 05, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- She has been at this intersection before. Many times, in fact, has Pam Shriver confronted her future over what is now a 15-year career.

At 20, when shoulder problems threatened a premature end to what had started so brilliantly, Shriver merely got healthy. At 24, when she saw her ranking moving in the wrong direction, she got angry.

But now, at 31, Shriver is coming to the end of a frustrating season during which she spent more time on rehabilitating a fractured foot than she did on reestablishing herself as a factor in women's tennis.

And again, Shriver is staring at the future, knowing that she will have to get healthy and angry if she has any hope of recapturing some of her past. And the question begs to be asked: is the end in sight for Baltimore's most-famous tennis player?

"Sometimes I have to be a little more one-dimensional about my tennis," Shriver said last Tuesday at the National Tennis Center, an hour or so after she lost her first-round U.S. Open match in three tight sets to Amy Frazier. "It's not just loving it. You have to go a step above that, to being obsessive. It's an attitude adjustment."

It's an adjustment that has been a constant battle for Shriver throughout her career. Even during a nine-year stretch when she never was out of the top 10, getting as high as No. 3 six times, Shriver always seemed to have more going on than most of the tour's big names.

If she wasn't sitting on the boards of local schools, such as her former high school (McDonogh School), she was sitting on the board of the Women's Tennis Association. If she wasn't serving on the President's Council For Physical Fitness and Sports, she was organizing a local charity event that has become a large fund raiser for cystic fibrosis.

It was hard enough in the days when Shriver was at the top of her game, but now her schedule is even busier and her game is not nearly what it was a few years ago. But as Eric Riley, her coach for the past three years, said last week, "Pam has to have something else aside from tennis to focus on to keep her sane."

Just recently, Shriver and Riley had a talk about the player's future. Not the one that includes a minority ownership in her beloved Orioles, or the one that might include starting an inner-city tennis program in Baltimore. It was a talk about the goals Shriver has left as a tennis player whose career has been quite fulfilling but not quite fulfilled.

Her immediate goal -- to reach the top 10 once more -- is a lofty one when you consider that Shriver hasn't been ranked that high in five years and is No. 36 in the world. But for the same reason that her former doubles partner, Martina Navratilova, can still be a force a month before her 37th birthday, Shriver thinks she is not merely fantasizing about one last impossible dream.

"I feel like I can have one more great run," said Shriver.

She will have to walk, or at least play more, before she can run. And that is part of the problem. Because of non-playing commitments she made before her stress fracture was discovered in June, Shriver emptied her playing calendar for most of the next two months.

It means that by the time she steps on the court for next year's Australian Open, Shriver will have played only a handful of matches in a six-month period. It also means that she will be six months closer to her 32nd birthday, an age when most players are seriously contemplating retirement if they have not done so already.

"The first part of this year was my best start since 1988," said Shriver, who reached the quarterfinals in four of her first five tournament on a limited schedule. "Then I got hurt. For me to make a decision, I would have to play eight tournaments in three months and come up short against players I should be beating."

Instead, she looks at victories over Mary Pierce and Manuela Maleeva and a tough three-set loss to Wimbledon finalist Jana Novotna at a tournament in Yokohama, Japan, and thinks about the fact that she can still be competitive. This, despite a serve-and-volley game that has been nearly extinct on the women's tour.

Riley is trying to help Shriver adjust to a new game dominated by hard hitters, trying to convince her to take fewer chances at the net and to work on improving her serve and play a little more from the baseline. But as Shriver admitted, "Getting me to try something different is very hard. Martina said to me a few years ago, I've never seen a person so young so set in her ways.' But that's the way I've always been."

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