Shriver reflects on memorable career
By Cynthia J. Faulkner
Pam Shriver, elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Wednesday, is best known for her extraordinary doubles play, including capturing all four majors in 1984 for the first-ever Grand Slam in women's doubles.
Pam Shriver was elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
But during her 18-year professional career, Shriver also played a little singles. In fact, at the age of 16 in 1978, Shriver became the only amateur to reach the U.S. Open final during the open era. She also is 10th on the WTA's career singles match wins list in the Open Era with 623 victories and, until two weeks ago, she was tied with Venus Williams for most tournament titles with 21.
Shriver, 39, now an ESPN analyst, took time from her broadcasting schedule in Melbourne, Australia, to talk about her life as a tennis player:
My first big victory... was at the U.S. Open, beating Martina Navratilova in the semis in 1978. I was 16 years and 2 months, which made me the youngest finalist in U.S Open history -- a record that still holds today.
Player I admired: I can't really say that I had a tennis player that I emulated, but growing up in Baltimore, a crazy sports town, the athletes that I followed were the Baltimore Orioles and Colts. Brooks and Frank Robinson, pitcher Jim Palmer and Johnny Unitas, the great quarterback. They were the great athletes when I was growing up.
Most memorable moment of your career: I've got three.
My last big win of my singles career. In 1988, I beat Steffi Graf in her Grand Slam year -- only two players beat her that year, myself and Gabriela Sabatini. My instincts told me that I was starting to have trouble hanging on to the top 5. Things were starting to unravel and sure enough that was my last big win. But because I knew, I stopped to soak it all in. It was a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden for the semifinals of the tour championships.
Winning the gold in doubles at the 1988 Olympics with Zina Garrison. It was the first time tennis was back as a full medal sport. We won it on our fifth match point against the Czechs.
With Martina in our first of 20 major wins at Wimbledon in 1981.
The person I owe the most to: Again, I've got three people. My mom and dad -- Sam and Margot Shriver -- had the right incredible dose of support, love and yet gave me a good rope to find my own independence. I knew they were there for me, but they didn't smother me by being around my tennis all the time or always wanting to be at my tournaments. That worked best for my family and I'm grateful; it let me have a better relationship with my sister.
The third is Don Candy, my coach from age 9 to age 25, and then he remained an advisor even after that. He molded my game and made it relatively fun because there're certain parts of development that are just hard work. He's Australian and had that wonderful dry Australian wit that came in handy, and he was just a great teacher.
Playing with Martina Navratilova: It was like a dream come true. If you could be a pro and love to play tennis and you get to play with the greatest tennis player of all time -- how would that feel?
It was the defining moment of my career. I was 18 years old and came to the phone when someone said Martina was on the phone. That was the begiinning of the partnership in January of 1981. It was my great fortune.
Beating Martina in singles: I did it three times relatively early in my career in 1978 and 1982. It was a hard thing to do. Her style was tough for me because she did everything I did but better. But on three occasions, I was able to get through it.
The first time when I was 16 and she was the reigning Wimbledon champion, that was a shocker to me and the whole tennis world.
I think I was like 3-40 against her. So we can harp on my big three wins all I want, but I've got to remember there were 40 wins on the other side.
Toughest moment of my career: I had a couple of tough moments.
In 1989 when I got back from the Australian trip, I was really feeling I'd lost the grip, and questioning my dedication to stay as a top player. I was looking at options and almost walked away right then. I really fell apart in a few ways, took some time off and after eight weeks started playing doubles.
The second was also that year when Martina decided to put our doubles partnership on hold. After 10 years that was difficult, but I understood why; in my singles I'd started to let go, although I finished No. 1 in the world in doubles that year.
Biggest regret or something I would have done differently: I don't believe in regrets, but if I knew what I know now, I would have tried things differently in my game. I would have tried to work on having a stronger backcourt game to complement my net play and serve. I was discouraged by people who thought I would have lost the strength of my game. But once I realized I'd taken my game to its top level, it might have been worth trying some different things. I wish maybe at a young age, I had set higher goals. I just kind of let the path unfold.
I don't have a major regret, though. Sure, winning a major title would have been good. But 22 doubles titles, an Olympic gold medal and 21 singles titles are still a good career.
Best thing about being a pro player: All the experience that traveling gives you. When I meet someone who's never been outside the United States or Australia, and I realize I've been to Melbourne 25 times. Travel is an enriching experience, you become more aware of what the world is about. That's a byproduct of being a pro tennis player.
Also financially, I don't have to worry about my next job. If ESPN says tomorrow they don't need me, I don't have to worry about it. You see what's going on in the United States today -- the Ford Motor Company layoffs for example -- and I don't have to worry about that. I don't take that for granted. I feel very fortuante, and tennis gave me that.
One last thing, the friendships are very important.
Best players I played against: Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Chris Evert, Monica Seles.
Most fun to play/least fun to play: Chrissie Evert had a fun style, contrasting to my style. If she beat you, she beat you with smart play and great placement. I was 0-17 before my first win over her and lost my one major final to her. Even though I might come out on the losing end, I always had the opportunity to be in the match. She had a great passing shot and was probably the last great baseliner who didn't rely on the power. I found those matches particularly intriguing.
In a matchup against Martina -- where it was a race to get to the net and she usually was faster -- it was such an uneasy feeling.
Favorite venue/tournament: The U.S Open. It's where I played in my first big success, it's my national championship and in the Northeast, where I lived. A lot of good memories there including the last of the 22 titles with Natasha Zvereva of Russia. My doubles career was from 1981 Wimbledon to 1991 at the U.S. Open.
Least favorite venue/tournament: I pretty much enjoyed wherever I played. Late in my career, I enjoyed going to new places to play like mostly closed communist countries of the U.S.S.R., China and Cuba in the late '80s and New Zealand, which wasn't on my normal schedule. Also, went to the Pan America Games in '91 and was undefeated (singles, doubles, mixed doubles).
Fun moment off the court: Away from the pro court, in the years that the first President Bush was still vice president, we played tennis at the Naval Observatory. His partner was Secretary of State George Schultz. Across the court from me was the crown prince, now emperor, of Japan. So we had this 5-4 guy who was going to be emperor and soon to be president across the net.
Playing tennis opened some doors. I went to state dinners at the White House. After playing the doubles match, I was invited to the imperial palace in Japan by the crown prince and princess.
Advice for today's athletes: I think doubles really helps build camaradarie. I hope the top players keep playing doubles.
The athletes today don't realize that you continually need to sell the sport and do something beyond go to practice and matches and the mandatory press conference. There's a lot more to the job than playing matches.
We all felt we had to go the extra mile to sell women's tennis. It's tough to remember to do today with all the riches, prize money and endorsements. Things go in cycles, so you always need to understand there's something that needs to be done to promote tennis.