Durie's run of success rudely interrupted by Byrne - Tennis
The Sunday Times
Sunday, June 14, 1992
Nick Pitt reports from Edgbaston
WHAT shocked the locals was not Jo Durie's abrupt and predictable defeat after a mini-revival, but the rudeness of a spectator who told her: "That was pathetic and I paid good money for it!"
Accurate or not (it was), that is not done at ladies' tennis at Edgbaston, a leafy suburb of Birmingham, on a gentle summer's day.
At first Durie, who lost 6-3 6-1 to Jenny Byrne of Australia, seemed stunned by the comment, but she recovered sufficiently to respond, asking the man what he did for a living. "He was just a prat, a moron," she said later. "He obviously knows nothing about tennis."
But perhaps he does. Durie's week has been a microcosm of her long career: much promised, little fulfilled. As she admitted herself: "I was in there for a while. But in the end I just fell apart."
How easily is the story told. Durie enjoyed an early break of service and surrendered it. Nevertheless, at three games each in the first set she seemed well placed. Thereafter, she won one game and precious few points. From one end, a stream of winners; from the other, errors. It took about an hour.
In mitigation it must be said that Durie lost to a fine and improving player. Byrne, who has so far beaten four seeds in this tournament and should be considered a firm favourite when she meets the big-serving Brenda Schultz in today's final, is a chunky, no-nonsense sort, with all the parts of a good game and a particularly fine backhand.
More noticeable than her game, though, was her attitude. As bouncy and determined as her coach, Paul McNamee, used to be, she zipped where Durie plodded. She has recently overcome ankle and wrist injuries which have kept her out of the game for 18 months, and which led to a fall in the rankings from 45 to nowhere. After a couple of wins in satellite tournaments, she is back to a ranking of 114 which, like many rankings, gives no idea whatsoever of her real capability. Byrne, who was brought up on grass courts in Perth, Western Australia, will be a threat to everybody at Eastbourne and Wimbledon.
The same cannot be said for Durie, who plays Zina Garrison in the first round at Eastbourne. Not everyone can be a champion, but Durie had the talent, if not the resolution, to go much further than she did. When she first came to notice, as a 14-year-old in 1974, Dan Maskell remarked that "she has all the equipment of Christine Truman at that age and, above all, a much better backhand".
She also had a much better backhand than Sue Barker, but Barker's forehand was good enough to win the French Open. Alas, the missing bits, mostly mental, have denied Durie such laurels. At least in the sunset of her career she remains determined to have a little fun. "I enjoyed the match today," she said, "even though she beat me up."
Equally genteel, though much more disappointed in defeat, was Pam Shriver, who lost a battle of the amazons against Schultz, 6-3 7-6. Both players are over six feet (as is Durie, which made the chunky Byrne the smallest semi-finalist by a foot) and both lean heavily on service.
Shriver showed her manners during the first set when Big Brenda stormed towards the net, wound up an enormous forehand, and thwacked it straight at Mighty Pam, holing her amidships. Pam gasped, Brenda apologised and Pam just said "Good shot!" without a trace of sarcasm.
Schultz, who acquitted herself well at Wimbledon last year, has the fastest service in women's tennis, timed at over 120mph. She has added a decent volley, which makes her a much more dangerous player. "I used to try to serve aces because I was frightened of having to volley," she said. But no longer. With a mixture of fast and judiciously placed serves accompanied by fine volleys (she stretches well for such a big woman) she was rarely in danger on her own delivery. Shriver, for all her experience, and for all the clever chipped returns she learned while winning everything at doubles with Navratilova, never broke service.
It was not, though, a spectacle. With the serve so dominant, the tennis was as limited as that expected from men on grass. Schultz won the first set with a single break of service, and the second in a tie-break.
Her victory was helped by Shriver's surprising failure to play the important points with conviction. Today, one suspects, she will find Byrne a much tougher opponent.
But whatever conclusions might be drawn from Edgbaston in determining fortunes at Wimbledon in just over a week, it should be remembered that no member of the world's top 10 entered. If they had, events would doubtless have been very different, for the difference between the very best women and the rest is chalk and cheese.