Shriver serves notice: Point of no return is near

September 02, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

NEW YORK -- She lost the first set in 19 minutes. Won three games in two sets. Double-faulted on match point.

If it was an ending -- and Pam Shriver said it probably was -- it was an ugly ending.

"I got squashed," she said, "in case you couldn't tell."

It happened on the windy, noisy Stadium Court at the U.S. Open, where an 18-year-old handful named Lindsay Davenport bounced Shriver out of the tournament yesterday with a 6-1, 6-2 second-round win.

An ugly ending. But an ending nonetheless. So Shriver stopped as she left for the locker room after the match and took a last look at the big court where she made her career 16 years earlier.

"I got kind of emotional there, which surprised me," she said.

After she had showered and dressed, she came to the interview room wearing an Orioles jersey -- "someone has to wear it" -- and a reporter asked if that was indeed the end of her singles career at the Open.

She exhaled and smiled. "A very strong chance," she said. "But I don't know. No big announcement here. But I'll be surprised if I go out there again for singles."

She'll probably keep playing doubles, as well she should; she and Liz Smylie are seeded fourth here. And she isn't retiring from singles yet. "I'll probably play the Australian Open next January," she said.

But it is a long way from January to the U.S. Open, and Shriver is pretty sure that along the way she'll realize she's finally had enough. "Getting beat like this kind of hurries you along," she said.

She has been wrestling with the idea for months, actually several years. She is 32 now and has other things on her mind. She is a businesswoman and a tennis politician and a minority owner of ** the Orioles. Her life is filled to the brim without tennis. She hasn't been ranked in the Top 10 in singles since 1989. She has plenty of money.

"There are times when I say to myself, 'Just give yourself a break and stop playing,' " she said.

But as much as she understands all that intellectually, she has found it difficult to pull the trigger on her retirement. She is still one of the world's best doubles players. And she can still play singles a little. Her singles record for the year was 13-9 before yesterday. She reached the third round at Wimbledon, the semifinals of an indoor tournament in Japan. "I still play well enough that I'm not just totally hanging on," she said. "And besides, all my friends are out here. A day doesn't go by without me thinking about how I'm going to find a way to let this go."

That day is coming, though. Her mind wanders on the court. During her first-round match against Beate Reinstadler on an outer court the other day, she found herself monitoring Todd Martin's match on a scoreboard; Martin is coming to Baltimore for her charity tournament Sept. 29, and she is rooting for him to come up big here.

As she struggled to finish off Reinstadler in the second set, she wanted to scream. "I was asking myself, 'Why are you still putting yourself through this?' I ask myself that a lot now."

Yesterday she asked herself throughout her 53-minute match. Davenport is her mirror image: a 6-foot-2 rising star who resisted the temptation of early big money and finished high school. ("We both went to our senior proms; there aren't many of us out here," Shriver said.) She was just too strong. Shriver won the first game, then lost nine straight. The crowd gave her a sarcastic cheer when she finally won a second game.

"It makes you want to run out to court 22 and finish the match there," she said. "I tried to keep my dignity."

When it was over, she did not flinch when the questions turned reflective. She was not opposed to summing up a career that began with her magical trip to the Open finals when she was a 16-year-old student at McDonogh. She won 21 singles titles and was ranked in the top six from 1982-88, but never reached a second Grand Slam final. She did win 22 Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal in doubles.

Bud Collins asked her yesterday: Do you regret that you never won a major tournament?

"Not really," she said. "I never had great expectations. No one drilled them into me when I was 12. I don't think I had the talent to be a No. 1 player. I've got a lot of limitations. To have a 16-year career, win a ton of doubles titles and have a top five career, I would have taken that in a second if you'd offered it to me when I was 12. So, no regrets."

The highlights? Easy. When she was the gangly kid with the huge racket who slammed her way to the finals in 1978. "I can't top that," she said. "But winning the women's doubles here in '91, after I'd come back from shoulder surgery, was also a great moment for me."

She doesn't have many, if any, left. She is on to other things. She would rather talk about tour politics than tennis. She was the only player in the tournament who could comment on the baseball strike as a participant. ("The whole thing is ridiculous," she said. "Not taking sides or anything. Just stupid.")

When she finally reaches the day when she doesn't want to play anymore, when the hassles and losing finally outweigh the fun, she will leave an honorable legacy: a top-shelf player who brought humor and dignity to the game, who competed with the best, but always kept things in perspective. Every young player should heed her example.

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