Tracy Austin, the celebrated 16-year-old pro from Rolling Hills, Calif., defeated Pam Shriver, the celebrated 16-year-old amateur from Lutherville, Md., 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, last night in a tennis match that the 5,000 people who witnessed it will long remember.
The quality was inconsistent, part fire like Shriver, part ice like Austin. That is undoubtedly attributable at least in part to the fact that Shriver had played no tournaments and only one tough match since her stirring run to the U.S. Open final four months ago.
But the enchantment of the occasion, the enthusiasm of the entranced audience, the fascinating contrasts between these appealing wonderkinder of women's tennis, and the sustained, almost feverish intensity made this 90-minute battle a gem to be admired.
Ultmately, on this particular night, Austin's mental toughness and back-court artiller proved too much for Shriver's spectacular but erratic serve-and-volley attack. Shriver's inability to take advantage of Austin's vulnerable serve proved to be more of a liability than her own crunching serve and slashing volleys were an asset.
"The junior flyweight championship," Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova called it, noting with a mixture of resignation and consternation that this first meeting of the sport's most recent female prodigies in an adult tournament eclipsed her appearance last night in the quarterfinals of the $125,000 Avon Championships at George Washington University's Smith Center.
Navratilova served poorly but dominated the net in a desultory 6-3, 6-1 victory over Californian Ann Kiyomura, who was too timid in her lighthitting, baseline game to blunt Navratilova's unrelenting attack.
In the semifinals, Navratilova will play Australian Dianne Fromholtz, a 6-2, 6-2 victor over Pam Teeguarden, this afternoon at 2. %austin plays South African Ilana Kloss at 8 p.m.
Austin had beaten Shriver in all nine of their meetings in junior tournaments, dating back to 1975, when they were both 12. But this was the first confronation since Shriver electrified the tennis world last September, upsetting Navratilova to become the youngest finalist in the history of the U.S. Open Championships.
"Pam played well that week. She deserved it," Austin said matter-of-factly. Obviously Austin could envision herself having done the same, save for the misfortune of bumping into champion Chris Evert in the quarterfinals instead of the title match, as Shriver did.
Austin is often thought to be an Evert clone becasue of her unerring groundstrokes and unflappable deportment on the court. Last night she displayed Evert-like determination as well.
One scene epitomizes the match. It came at the end of the second set, after Shriver had put all her fireworks together in a glorious five-game run that briefly blew Austin away and jab-bed a hole in her usually ironclad concentration.
The crowd, which included many of Shriver's friends and neighbors, erupted in applause and cheering. The volume was like that at a basketball game, and drowned out the voice of the umpire, who was calling the score on a bullhorn because a loose wire in his microphone had been grumbling distracting noises dring points.
Austin had lost the depth of her groundstrokes, enabling Shriver to swarm the net. Miss Fire was smoking, Miss Ice melting. Austin's concentration was leaking badly, so she just stuck her fingers in her ears and buried her head in a towel at the change-over.
Then she came out renewed, her resolve refrozen, and won the first five games of the final set.
"I didn't know it could be that loud. It was unbelievable. A lot of people stood up," Austin said of the crowd's partisanship. "That made me get my concentration back, when they went wild like that. Right then I said, 'No way.' That gave me a nudge, I think."
Austin held serve from 0-30 in the first game of the final set, Shriver's forehand betraying her on the last two points as it had so often in the first set.
In the second game, Shriver got to 40-30, but Austin whacked a forehand cross-court passing shot -- one of many that she blistered throughout the match, sometimes from defensive positions that demonstrated her phenomenal balance and anticipation. Then she crackled a winning return off a first serve wide to her forehand and Shriver sailed another forehand long for the break.
A grimace of dejection, even sudden depression, swept across Shriver's face. She stood with hands on hips, then slapped her thigh in an attempt to prod herself. But the end had begun.
Through the next year games, Shriver was constantly talking to herself, hyperventilating, seemingly choking back tears. Austin just kept swatting like the Grim Reaper, her passing shots a scythe chopping down the 6-foot-1 beanstalk as she kept boring in on the net.
"Actually, I think I probably should have stayed back and rallied some more becasue I was doing all right," Shriver said. "I was justgetting a little tight on my forehand side.
"I just wasn't making the shots I was in thesecond set, and Tracy was hitting those angled passing shots. That's kind of tough."
The "Great Whomping Crane," as telvision commentator Bud Collins nicknamed Shriver during the Open, was whomping too many forehands either long or into the net.
She especially seemed nervous at the start, over-anxiously trying to punish Austin's secondserves. Time and again Shriver tried to get to the net behind her returns, hitting them while moving in, but butchered them instead. Almost before she knew what happened, she was down 0-3.
The rest of the first set was tight and well played, both players probing, using every inch of the quick synthetic court. Shriver delivered some mightly serves, but Austin cranked some returns that exploded on her with just as much pacc.
"Her return of serve doesn't surprise me at all when I see it go by me. I'm more surprised when I get an easy volley," Shriver said, trying to grin through the pain of defeat.
"Tracy has one of the top returns of serve in the game right now, for sure."