Elise Burgin is still an ace, but from a distance

June 06, 1995|By BILL TANTON

It's hard at this time of the year, when tennis is heating up.

The French Open is back on TV. The familiar clay courts. The brown tennis balls. Historic Roland Garros Stadium.

Soon the scene will shift to the green grass of Wimbledon. Millions who have paid little attention to tennis since the U.S. Open last September will spend long afternoons and evenings glued to TV watching the top players in the world.

Baltimore's Elise Burgin was part of all that for years.

She first played international tennis in 1979. Her last major event was the U.S. Open in '93.

dTC Her best friend, Pam Shriver, is still out there, still playing the tour at the age of 32.

Burgin and Shriver left an Orioles game together at Camden Yards last Saturday afternoon. Shriver is part owner of the club.

At the height of a cloudburst, Elise drove Shriver to Dulles Airport for a flight to Europe, where Pam will play some grass-court tournaments in preparation for Wimbledon.

And, yes, Shriver will play both singles and doubles.

"On the grass," Burgin says, "Pam can still cause havoc for some players. She's not playing as many tournaments as she used to. I think she's fresher."

Burgin once ranked as high as No. 22 in the world in singles, No. 7 in doubles. But she was overshadowed by fellow Baltimorean Shriver, who was a U.S. Open finalist at 16 and rose as high as No. 3 in the world. In doubles, Pam and her former partner, Martina Navratilova, won every title imaginable, including Wimbledon several times.

These days Burgin is still making the adjustment to life after tennis. As Bill Bradley wrote in his biography regarding the end of his career with the New York Knicks:

"An athlete dies twice, once when his career ends, and again at the end of his life."

Elise Burgin is too smart to be overwhelmed by the sentimentality of that, just as U.S. Senator Bradley is. Burgin stays busy doing a lot of things, including pursuing a TV career.

For eight years she and Shriver have been on the board of the women's tennis tour. Elise has done TV commentary for tennis on Euro-sport. She has been "Good Morning America's" tennis person from tournaments abroad. She does exhibitions and corporate outings.

"In a way, I feel as if I'm still there," she says. "But the other day I was honored as Pikesville High's Alumnus of the Year, and you know how old your teachers look to you when you're in high school? Well, the teachers look like kids to me now. That sort of thing makes you think, 'Maybe it's time.' "

Yesterday, before heading to her job as a sports reporter for the ABC affiliate (WHTM-TV) in Harrisburg, Elise was at Towson State, hitting with a college player, Sasha Boros, daughter of Orioles third base coach Steve Boros.

Sasha, tall and blond, is on the varsity at Iowa. She has just come to Baltimore to spend the summer with her parents.

Though Burgin may feel as if she has never left the tour, she is struck by the way the game has changed.

"The rackets today allow players to hit harder," Elise was saying. "That set the stage for the development of a different type of player. Power overtakes finesse.

"John McEnroe was one of the great finesse players of all time, but Boris Becker came along and overpowered him.

"Mary Pierce [who lost Sunday in the French to Iva Majoli] is an example of the big hitter who has become a winner. She was a finalist in the French last year. She won the Australian this year."

The best woman player in the world -- Monica Seles -- hasn't played in two years, Burgin notes. That's when Monica was stabbed in Hamburg.

"You ache for her," Burgin said. "That man didn't just come out of nowhere and do that. He stalked her. And he's been exonerated. Twice.

"I can understand why Monica finds it so hard to come back with that in the back of her mind. A player can have no fear -- especially an aggressive player like Monica.

"She was the best because she was the most consistent hard hitter I've ever seen. She takes the ball earlier than anybody. She was so mentally tough.

"Will she play again? You have to say yes. She's still only 21 years old."

Another star of women's tennis, Jennifer Capriati, is on the sidelines because of personal problems -- including drugs.

"Jennifer came back last winter and played a tournament in Philadelphia," Burgin recalled. "I was there. She lost in the first round. She hasn't played since. I know the game would relish getting both Monica and Jennifer back."

Burgin still considers Steffi Graf the best of the women who are playing.

"Steffi has the great forehand and she can dominate you," Elise said. "Seles came along and pushed Graf. Steffi needed that. Pierce lost in the French to Majoli -- who plays like Seles."

It's a great life out there on the tour. Up to a point. But Elise Burgin is happy with the life she is building now.

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