Q&A with Pam Shriver
Talking About Tennis Is Only One of Her Rackets
Q & A WITH PAM SHRIVER
Febuary 28 2003
By Lisa Dillman, Times Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Times
Pam Shriver had to chuckle about the recent e-mail she received from a certain 46-year-old, complaining about the speed of the court, the slow conditions and tennis balls during a recent tournament. But there was a note of optimism about the surroundings at the next event. And she went out and took advantage of the faster surface, and won the doubles title.
The 46-year-old was the incomparable Martina Navratilova.
"It was so funny, getting this e-mail from a person I played doubles with 22 years ago," Shriver said.
Shriver, though, is hardly sitting still. It's clear that the word "energy" has long belonged in any sentence mentioning Shriver, who won 22 Grand Slam event doubles titles, 20 with Navratilova, and 21 singles titles before retiring in 1997. She was inducted into the tennis Hall of Fame last summer, continues her busy broadcasting schedule with ESPN and other networks, runs a major charity event in Baltimore, her hometown, and found time in June to get married to James Bond ... George Lazenby.
Shriver, who lives in Pacific Palisades, also carved out some space in her schedule to discuss, among other things, the state of women's tennis, Venus and Serena Williams, Navratilova and the Pacific Life tournament at Indian Wells starting Wednesday. Then there is everyone's favorite topic, the fascinating possibility of Steffi Graf's returning to play mixed doubles with husband Andre Agassi at the French Open.
Question: What would Steffi Graf coming back in Paris do for the sport?
Answer: It would be the only mixed doubles match that would push big singles matches off the headlines. I had somebody at the club, in the gym, the other day say they would love to be able to promote that. They want to be able to promote just that mixed doubles match.... Just to see them on the court together ... she has 22 major singles titles and he has eight.
Anything that gets tennis noticed more [is great]. People would notice a match like that who don't follow tennis. Husbands and wives. Mothers. People who didn't care what Albert Costa or Juan Carlos Ferrero could do on a clay court are going to be all ears.
Q: What are the chances of it happening?
A: She'll be four years removed from playing a match. Even though it's mixed doubles, and it's all in fun, it's really up to her. She's got a lot of thinking to do.
Q: Speaking of returning ... do you ever have dreams about tennis?
A: I can't remember the last time I had a dream about tennis. I have dreams about USTA [stuff]. I'll wake up and say, "Oh, my God, how could they do that?" I dream about commentating, had some dreams about commentating for ESPN.
Q: Do you ever have moments of missing the sport, of playing on the tour?
A: If anything, I played too long. In the last four, five years, singles-wise, I was a non-factor. Late in my career, I hit spots in the '90s, like Moscow, Beijing, Auckland, Havana, Cuba, places I had never been to. I had a lot of terrible losses late in my career. They even stopped saying, "Had a win over Shriver," because it no longer became a big deal. In the '80s, a win over me meant something. In the '90s, it was like they stopped mentioning it. Every win I had was like a mental battle. So here's the point, I got every last bit out of it.
Q: The WTA Tour is searching for a new chief operating officer. What kind of qualities does the next leader of the WTA have to have?
A: Fantastic political skills. To be able to get the best out of a very complicated structure. To see if there's any ways to make changes in that structure, so that everybody can benefit. They need diplomatic, political skills. They need strategic business skills. And they certainly need to be able to guide the marketing side. They need to have the respect of the three main constituencies, the players, the tournament directors and the Grand Slams and the federations. I'd like to see someone have a footprint, so when they walk into a room, "That's the leader of women's tennis. Take notice."
Q: Serena and Venus Williams have met in the finals of the last four Grand Slam tournaments, and Serena survived two match points in the semifinals at the Australian Open against Kim Clijsters and went on to win the title. Who out there can challenge the Williams sisters?
A: Clijsters is the No. 1 that stands out, though it worries me that she couldn't close out that match because I thought she had the belief to do it. I still look at [Jennifer] Capriati and [Lindsay] Davenport. Justine Henin has the shot-making ability. She's got surprising power and incredible desire and she's extremely fit. [Daniela] Hantuchova has got to show me. She's got to get stronger and put on weight. I'm not sure she's there yet. It's not a very long list.
Q: How much does it hurt the Indian Wells tournament, not having the top two players in the world? Venus and Serena Williams have not played since being booed there in 2001, when Venus withdrew several minutes before a scheduled semifinal, shown live on ESPN.
A: Any time you don't have the chance to get one, and/or two, for a tournament as prestigious as Indian Wells, it hurts. That was one of the more unfortunate one-two punches, the withdrawal within 90 seconds of our live show in the semifinals and the next match, hearing the boos.
Q: Do you think they will come back to Indian Wells?
A: I feel it's possible. I think both Venus and Serena are very reasonable people. If Charlie [Pasarell] or [someone] from the tournament [did it] in the right atmosphere. I'm sure they've tried. Why wouldn't you? Sit down and apologize for the fact it happened. You don't have to apologize in a defensive way.
Q. Are you amazed that Martina Navratilova was able to win a Slam (the Australian Open mixed doubles) at 46? And do you think she'll play singles again?
A. One, I'm not amazed that she won. Michael Jordan and Martina, those athletes are just in rarefied air. She can play doubles strategically better than anybody out there right now. Sure, she's lost a little speed and a little reflex. But experience and knowledge and desire can still make up for a lot of that.
As far as singles, she says that was a one-time thing [at Eastbourne, England, last June]. But she always said she was never going to play singles. I wouldn't be surprised if she took up another bet. Imagine the people that are trying because they want to see her play: "Hey, Martina, I'll bet you this."
She's something else. She hadn't been down to Australia since we won it in '89. We happened to be at the Gold Coast [a tune-up event] during the day she and [Svetlana] Kuznetsova won it. We stopped in and watched. I can't imagine, on my vacation, going to see anybody play a tennis match except Martina.
Pacific Life Open
WEDNESDAY TO MARCH 16
? What: First Masters Series event of the year.
? Where: Indian Wells.
? Women: Begin Wednesday. Men: Begin March 10.
? Defending champions: Lleyton Hewitt and Daniela Hantuchova.
? Prize money: $2.45 million for men, $2.1 million for women.