Shriver settles in among greats

She, Wilander receive tennis' highest honor at Hall of Fame ceremony

Tennis

July 14, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEWPORT, R.I. - It was like the old days for retired tennis player Pam Shriver. Up early, meeting Martina Navratilova at the beauty shop to have their hair done before going on court. Talking girl talk.

And then it was off to the Newport Casino Lawn Tennis Club, where Navratilova presented her longtime doubles partner from Baltimore for induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Mats Wilander's former coach, Jan Sjolgren, did the same for him.

Sitting in the audience with family and friends, Shriver's husband of one month, George Lazenby, looked on with pride.

"Pam's whole life has been tennis and basically leading up to this moment," he said. "I think it would be devastating for her if she wasn't here."

It was a day for celebrating sportsmanship, hard work and partnerships. Wilander's coach remembered the player's first French Open final in 1982, when he refused to accept victory.

" `Game, set, match, Wilander,' said the umpire," Sjolgren said. "But Mats said, `No. The ball was on the line.' He insisted on playing match point again and then won that point, too."

And Shriver told how her car's driver at the French Open this year was still talking about that match. She said the driver told her that when he and his son play tennis, they always play by "Mats' Rules."

"It's a wonderful way to be remembered," Shriver said.

Navratilova made sure Shriver would be well-remembered, too. She called her "a Hall of Famer in life," not just in tennis. She spoke of her excellent play as a singles player, her fabulous play as a doubles player and her passionate advocacy of the sport.

"Little did I know that when I called her to ask her to be my partner that it would last for 10 years," Navratilova said. "I accomplished a lot more with this partnership than I did without it. Thank you, Pam."

Then, Navratilova called Shriver "my true friend" and introduced her to a clamorous standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 3,800.

Before the ceremony, at a news conference, the similarities and differences between Shriver and Wilander were on display. Both are passionate about the game. Both worked hard to do their best.

But their appreciation of the Hall of Fame was far apart over the years.

"I'd never been here before this week," said Wilander, an eight-time Grand Slam champion from Sweden. "I did drive by it once about 10 years ago, but didn't stop to come in. In Europe, we don't have sports museums like this, so it was hard for me to understand what it would be like."

Shriver has come for every induction but one since 1983.

"Pam genuinely loves the game," said her sister, Eleanor, who was present with a large gathering of family and friends that included husbands, parents and Pam's 93-year-old grandmother, who made the trip from California.

"Pam has been coming for these ceremonies for 15 years," Eleanor said. "Some may see a motive in that, but I think she has an appreciation for the people who have come before her and helped pave the way. Her tears today are an outward sign of how she feels. ... Being elected is an incredible testimony to her hard work and determination."

Sitting among Shriver's special guests, Don Candy, her first and longtime coach, said no one knows just how hard Shriver worked.

"People talk about her hurting her shoulder when she was 16," he said. "But what she did was totally destroy it. It took a very long rehab period in which she lifted a total of 15 tons of weight a day, three days a week, to rebuild it. And even then, you never saw her after a match without that big lump of ice on her shoulder."

It may have taken major labor to get here, but yesterday, Shriver was at home in this facility that oozes history. The building itself, finished in 1880, is Old World. Built of sturdy brick and fine, aging wood, it surrounds well-groomed tennis lawns and feels more like a corner of Wimbledon in old England than a spot along the Atlantic seaboard in New England.

And now, when you walk up the stairway into the International Hall of Fame, Shriver's smiling face greets you.

As the newest inductees, her and Wilander's plaques are so positioned among the other 177 members so that tennis fans see them first. Further along, an entire room is dedicated to the careers of both.

The displays of trophies, gold medals, rackets, photographs and commentaries on their careers will remain until at least the end of next April, when preparations for a new induction group will begin.

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