Pam's last stand full of class

September 02, 1994|By George Vecsey | George Vecsey,New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- She was wearing an Orioles shirt, the home whites, no name or number on it. When somebody asked the symbolism in her choice of wardrobe following probably her last singles appearance at the U.S. Open, Pam Shriver said, "It was the only shirt I had in my locker."

Then she laughed. It's a good way to mask the feelings.

She's having a bad week. The Lutherville native owns a tiny piece of the Orioles, and she's protesting the baseball strike -- "the whole scene, I won't pick sides." In a quiet conversation, she brought up the frozen faces of Richard Ravitch and Donald Fehr, the two negotiators, and she gave a dainty shudder. "Not an ounce of personality in either of them," she said.

Nobody could say that about Pam Shriver. She has personality, or maybe you could call it moxie, in the face of adversity. Her hometown team doesn't play anymore. Her former doubles partner, named Martina, beat her bid for re-election as president of the Women's Tennis Association. Then a kid named Lindsay Davenport, who was 2 years old when Shriver first played at Louis Armstrong Stadium here, ran her out in 53 minutes, 6-1, 6-2.

"Oh, dear," said Shriver, which is not exactly how we used to express our emotions back in my old schoolyard.

"You have your pride," she said, recalling the sympathetic pats of applause in the half-empty, sun-dappled stadium. "Part of you wants to run out and finish out on Court 22. I wanted to keep my dignity. I didn't want to cry."

She was as oh-dear poised in her Orioles shirt as she would be in a respectable Republican black dress with some tasteful pearls around her long neck. Stiff upper lip, American-style.

Not that Shriver has ever been dull. Her primal screams have enlivened many a bad moment, when her gawky frame and limited mobility became exposed against better athletes in the late rounds of major tournaments.

"I really didn't have great, great expectations," Shriver said later. "I didn't feel I had the talent. I've got a lot of limitations. It all happened so quickly between 14 and 16. If you'd said this at the age of 12, I would have taken it."

By "this," Shriver meant 19 doubles titles, 10 of them with the aforementioned Martina, and the 1988 Summer Olympics gold medal with Zina Garrison, and nine times a Grand Slam semifinalist. In 1978, when she was 16, Shriver beat Jeanne Evert in her first match, Navratilova in the semifinals, then lost to the other Evert in the final. She never got back to a Grand Slam final.

And, yes, the 6-foot Pam Shriver looked around the stadium yesterday while she was being run around by somebody 2 inches taller. Shriver has befriended Davenport, the personable young Californian; they are among the minority in women's tennis who have done "the high school bit," as Shriver called their diplomas. (The language bit: Shriver is a tennis buddy of George Bush's.)

"I don't think there are many of us playing tennis and certainly playing Wimbledon during the same year we went to our senior prom," Shriver said of herself and Davenport. "I love her parents. I have never met her parents, but the fact I don't know who they are, I think, is terrific. I mean, it is like the first person inside the top 10 whose parents I have never met, and I am crazy about them."

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