POLITE, TALENTED SCHULTZ'S GAME CHANGES, GROWS
The Times Union
Sunday, August 30, 1992
For two consecutive summers I've watched Brenda Schultz march through the women's draw in the OTB Internation Tennis Open; watched with a mix of awe and admiration as she overpowered opponents with 110 mph serves and graceful volleys.
She was the champion of this tournament in 1991, and by this afternoon she may well be the champion again. Considering the way she has played this week, it will be something of a surprise if she does not repeat, even though her opponent, Barbara Rittner of Germany, is actually seeded higher.
Schultz is the No. 4 seed, Rittner No. 3, but Schultz, despite an occasional lapse, has been the dominant player in this tournament. Saturday she advanced to the final with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Florencia Labat of Argentina. In that match the many strengths of Schultz were clearly on display: her size and speed, her booming serve and agile net play. Also on display was perhaps the one thing that has prevented her from breaking into the elite of professional tennis: her personality.
Sorry. That didn't come out right. The truth of the matter is, 21-year-old Schultz is as pleasant and good-natured and genuinely likeable as any of the pros who descended upon Central Park last week. There is, as far as I can tell, none of the tennis brat in her, which may stem from the fact that she learned the game in The Netherlands, and not in the United States, where tennis brats seem to grow like weeds.
How many professional tennis players, for example, would have reacted as Schultz did in the second set Saturday? She had watched a 4-1 lead dissolve to 5-3, and now Labat held a 40-love lead in the ninth game. Labat sent a forehand down the line. The linesman called the ball out. Labat looked to the chair umpire and asked him to overrule. Before he had the chance to make a decision, Schultz walked off the court and took her seat, thus acknowledging that the ball was good and the point and game were Labat's.
The crowd, appropriately enough, responded with a loud ovation.
"I'm very bad at that," Schultz said afterward. "When I don't give the point, I feel so bad I lose the next point anyway."
She tried to downplay the incident by noting that the score was 40-love, and that Labat probably would have won the game anyway. Still, it wasn't like the match was over. That point cut Schultz's lead to just 5-4, and while she did go on to win, it was still a dramatic, noble and admirable gesture on her part.
And, unfortunately, one you don't often see from Top 10 players, which, perhaps, is why they are Top 10 players, and Schultz is ranked 29th.
You give nothing away at that level, even when you should. It's sad, but true. Schultz, for instance, remembers a match with Monica Seles in which Schultz made several calls against herself - calls that benefited her opponent. Later in the match, she said, Seles drilled a ball through the net. Seles knew it. Schultz knew it. But the chair umpire did not. Schultz appealed to Seles' honor, only to have Seles claim that she believed the ball had gone over the net. Schultz lost the point but learned a lesson.
"I guess in this world," she said, "it's no good to be good. I'm much more careful about that now."
And yet, there she was Saturday, walking off the court, giving up a point and a game.
Oh well. Change takes time, right? In other ways, at least, Schultz has developed a world-class game. Repeatedly this week she has demonstrated a versatility that was largely missing a year ago. She still has the biggest serve on the women's tour, but that power has been neatly supplemented. Schultz will throw in the occasional drop shot or slice. If someone starts teeing off on her serve, she will cut back on the pace and concentrate on placement. She also covers more of the court, a direct result, she said, of having cut a few pounds from her 6-foot-2 frame.
"In my mind, it's always been power, power, power," Schultz said. "But I've learned that I can win the point on the second or third shot. It doesn't have to be an ace every time. You have to mix things up."
Strategy, technique, physical ability - Schultz would seem to have designed for herself the perfect blueprint for stardom. Now, if only she could learn to be a little less benevolent.