Cheers soften sting of Shriver's loss Fans show their affection in mixed-doubles defeat

July 09, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- By the time the gates to the All England Club opened yesterday morning, tennis fans had lined the Church Street sidewalks as far as the eye could see.

This is the 14th time Wimbledon has run long, the first since 1992. And when officials announced fans would be allowed in free, long lines were the result. And that brought on the first announcement of the day.

"Play will be delayed," said the official voice, as fans searched the sky for more rain.

But this time, the delay had nothing to do with the weather. This time, it was to give the "unexpectedly large" numbers of people time to take seats at Centre Court.

By the time Pam Shriver and her mixed-doubles partner, Pat Galbraith, came on court for their quarterfinal match against No. 1 seeds Mark Woodforde and Larisa Neiland, it was nearing noon, and the stands were at near capacity.

In the players' friends box, everyone but Shriver had someone cheering for them on this cold, overcast and blustery day.

But Shriver didn't need anyone in the box.

She had all the fans on Centre Court.

"I've never been in a situation like that, where everyone is cheering for one person in a doubles match," said Galbraith, after he and Shriver, the eighth-seeded team, had lost, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. "It was a lot of fun."

For Shriver, it was something of a chance to make another exit, possibly a more dignified one than in her second-round singles loss, in which she double-faulted on match point with a pingpong serve that needed a bounce before it made it across the net.

In this match, there were no pingpong balls, and, from the beginning, English voices echoed across the court in full support of the Baltimore woman, who, at 34, likely has played her last singles match at Wimbledon: "Come on, Pam." "We're behind you, Pammy." "You can do it, Pam."

The game that made these fans happiest came with Shriver trying to hold her serve to keep pace at 1-2 in the second set.

She was facing a break point when she was forced to run around deep in front of the Royal Box to dig out three defensive lobs.

The crowd went nuts, as she showed mobility that she often has lamented not having. She came up big again and again, until, at last, she was able to put away a backhand winner to save the break. Winded, she leaned on Galbraith, who encouraged the crowd to cheer more.

When, two points later, she made a brilliant low volley that Woodforde couldn't pick up, evening the set at 2-2, she was as delighted as everyone around her.

When the match was over, ended when a forehand return by Shriver went wide, she sat on her chair for a few minutes, her arms crossed, reflecting on the near-misses. And then she got up to walk off with her partner and their conquerors. But as she neared the exit, she slowed, turned and, to the crowd's delight, applauded them.

"I'll always remember the feeling I had out there in this match," she said. "I'll remember I didn't have a strong last service game and that I couldn't make points on my side of the court, second and third. But first of all, I'll always remember that atmosphere."

And the crowd that loved her.

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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