Saturday began as the most exciting day of Pam Shriver's young life.

The tall, talented youngster from Lutherville, Md., who will celebrate her 16th birthday Tuesday, was scheduled to play for the first time on Wimbledon's Centre Court, the Carnegie Hall of every tennis player's dreams.

When she first strode into the venerable old stadium, she did not seem intimidated. The butterflies in her stomach were as big as sparrows, she admitted later, but they were not chirping an unpleasant tune.

She played Englishwoman Sue Barker, a semifinalist last year and the No. 15 seed. Sriver led 6-2, 5-2, had three match points in the second set, and led, 3-0 and 5-3, in the third set before losing, 2-6, 8-6 7-5.

She came into the press interview room choking back sobs there was a long gentle, poignant pause. "If someone doesn't ask a question quick, I'm going to start crying," she said softly.

Shriver was scheduled to be back on Centre Court on doubles later, and was looking forward to that. But the match before hers ran long, and so Shriver and Janet Newberry - a good team that drew No. 2 seeds Evonne Goolagong and Betty Stove in the first round - was sent out to court No. 3 to begin play at 8 p.m.

Darkness gathered quickly, as it can on an overcast day in England, but the umpire seemed determined to complete a set. At 9:30, when the players needed miners' hats to see through the gloaming, Goolagong and Stove won the first set in a tie breaker and the match was suspended.

After a shower, Shriver rode in a courtesy car back to her hotel. She was halfway through the lobby when she realized she had left her purse in the car. It had already departed.

She stood there, not knowing whom to call or what to do, and looked as if her sweetest dreams had turned to vinegar. It had been a trying day, one she will remember as part of her education by ordeal.

Someone offered condolences on her match, saying simply, as tennis players do to one another, "Bad luck."

She came into the press interview room choking back sobs, there had held 12 hours earlier.

"This is the worst day of my whole life," she sighed.