"She's seen both sides of the American Nationals now: a finalist one year, a first-round loser the next. It's probably a good lesson for the girl - a very, very good lesson.But it hurts. It really hurts. It's a painful lesson, too ." Don Candy, Pam Shriver's coach
A year ago Pam Shriver was the darling of the U.S. Open, at 16 years and 2 months of age the youngest finalist in the history of America's premier tennis tournament. Today in her second Open, she tasted the tears that go with being a despondent first-round loser.
Shriver was rusty, ineffective and mentally defeated before she began. She had played only 19 competitive matches since last year's Open, because of, first, school commitments, and then a shoulder injury. She admitted that she was scared stiff. Shriver was beaten by another 17-year-old, qualifier Julie Harrington, 6-4, 6-1.
Harrington is a bouncy little left-hander from Spokane, Wash., with a steady ground game and a good forehand cross-court passing shot. She is No. 109 in the computerized world rankings of the Women's Tennis Association, hardly in Shriver's league when the "Great Whomping Crane" from Lutherville, Md., is on her game.
Sadly, however, Shriver has rarely played up to her potential in the past 12 months. Circumstances have conspired against her.
"The way I look at it is it could have been anybody out there, and it would have been the same story," a puffy-eyed and self-critical Shriver said. "She played well, but she didn't win the match. I lost it," she added at a press conference as touching as any that followed her unlikely triumphs a year ago. It amounted to a poignant confessional.
"She can't hurt you with anything. She's got decent ground strokes, she's a lefty, but she doesn't serve and volley. She's basically a counter puncher. The match was in my hands and I lost it. I didn't show any resistance. I was just kind of dead," Shriver said, choking back sobs.
"That's what I've got to realize: if I'm not going to put forth the effort, No. 400 in the world is going to beat me. I've just been a real jerk the last year." She paused, then added: "Now I can go cry."
Last year, Shriver blossomed here. Six feet tall and 140 pounds, she had an exciting, aggressive game tailor-made for the asphalt-based hard courts of the new National Tennis Center, but it came packaged with a marvelously expressive baby face. She lit up Flushing Meadow Park with youthful inspiration and serves, volleys and smashes that sparkled.
New and appealing, she was blissfully unmindful of reputations. She upset Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova in a nerve-wracking semifinal and challenged four-time champion Chris Evert in an absorbing final that her coach, Australian-born Don Candy, correctly termed "a grand spectacle for tennis."
But it has been a trying year for the girl who, asked her full Christian name at last year's Open, winked ingenuously and said: "Pamela Howard Shriver, the First."
Today's result was a sad shock to most of the opening afternoon crowd of 10,000 spectators, but it was not surprising to insiders who know how Shriver has struggled almost from the moment last year's intoxicating cheers faded.
The day after battling Evert so spiritedly and splendidly last September, she went back to classes at McDonogh School in Baltimore, a demanding private school where she combined her junior and senior years into one in order to graduate this past June.
She played seven matches in seven months, hardly enough to keep up with the Everts and Navratilovas and Joneses who play professional tennis full time.
When she turned pro in March, Shriver said she could see the light at the end of the tunnel: the time when she would be through with her double load of schoolwork and could devote herself to tennis, getting the competition she needs.
But she found fog instead. Two weeks after getting her diploma, in her second tournament of the summer, she injured her right shoulder. She developed tendinitis, withdrew from Wimbledon after playing one match, and did not play competitively again until two weeks ago.
She lost in the first round of tournaments at Richmond and Mahwah, N.J. In all, she played only 19 matches in competition between the the 1978 and 1979 Opens. With her serve and smash diminished by inactivity, she felt vulnerable and insecure.
Asked Monday how she felt about returning to the site and occasion where she gained instant international celebrity, Shriver looked hesitantly at her sneakers. An uninterpretable smile, at once sad and bemused, spread across the delicate features of that flawless baby face.
"I'd feel a lot better if I had some matches behind me," she said softly, without a trace of self-confidence. "Last year I had 15 or 16 matches in the three weeks before the open. I was playing well, and everything just clicked. This year I've had two matches in two months and lost them both, which isn't too good."
"Her state of mind is one of trepidation, because her shoulder doesn't quite fit in with her plans," Candy had said. "She's a little like a man who wants to attack a woodpile but feels the axe is very, very blunt. She knows she'll have to work her tail off to cut any wood at all. When she hurt her shoulder at Wimbledon, she said: "I may make a fool of myself at Flushing.'"
Shriver, too, had private premonitions of the disaster that would befall her today on Court 7, far from the stadium where she shined so brightly last year. "Sunday I asked her how she felt, and she said, 'Sick to my stomach,'" Candy said. That was only practice, so you get the idea how nervous she was."
"I know myself and my confidence is at its lowest point," Shriver said."Any time that happens you go in and you're scared. I was scared." Shriver said this after the match in which she double faulted a dozen times, bungled countless volleys and played with sluggish resignation.
"I stretched before the match, but when I went out there, I felt my legs were so tight I couldn't do anything. The crowd was pulling for me, same as last year, and I couldn't respond.
"I've been frustrated in practice and everything. I had this coming, I guess, and I hope now I can use it to my advantage. I feel like I did after Wimbledon in 1978, when I lost to Sue Barker on Centre Court after having three match points. I came back from Wimbledon and worked pretty hard, and I worked into the U.S. Open. I hope that will be the case now, but I have a long way to go."
Shriver will have her tonsils removed after the Open, and will start playing full time at the National Women's Indoors at Minneapolis the first week in October. Humbled by her tribulations, she is determined to regain her form.
"I think most of it right now has been my attitude. After last year I guess I started thinking, 'I can take the world,' that sort of thing. I didn't realize that I was getting kind of arrogant about things, but I guess I was," Shriver said, spilling her soul.
"I sort of felt that if I walked out on the court, that would be good enough. Everybody I played had a racket in their hand, but I thought they weren't as good as me or something like that."
"So now what I really have to do is start over, start with the basics. I came into the Open last year with a good serve and first volley. In women's tennis, if you have that, you're a force. But since then, I haven't had it."
Shriver said her shoulder was not tender today, even though she hit her overheads tentatively and served at three-quarters pace, seldom cracking the wide slice serve that worked so effectively for her on these courts last year.
"Physically, it bothered me very, very little, but I think a lot of it is the mental side of an injury," she said. 'I hurt it when I was playing well in England, and I think I just started feeling sorry for myself.I had finished school, I was kind of ready, and I got hurt.
"I came home and could only hit ground strokes, but even then I didn't look at the bright side. I could at least play. But I didn't use my time well. My attitude was bad. I think I sort of cheated myself out of a year.
"I've been through a lot with school, but that was my choice. I wanted to get my diploma before I became a full-time tennis player. Now I just have to work a lot harder than I have been and pull myself together."
Her coach hopes the bitter lesson turns out more valuable than painful.
"She's young enough to think that maybe life hasn't been fair to her in taking away that great big club she calls a serve, but if she's worth her salt she'll get through it," said the forthright Aussie.
"Remember John McEnroe in 1977 after he got to the samifinals at Wimbledon and played Jimmy Connors four tough sets. When he went back to school, he was miserable for about 10 months. He couldn't beat his Stanford teammates. He was trying to go to school and keep up a reputation, but now he was a scalp for everybody else.
"He was tough enough to come through that, and Pammy has got to be, too. What she is seeing out there is real life. Her rise last year was the fairy tale, and this is reality. She knows she can be beaten. She knows she can be injured. But she'll get through it.If not, she was never going to be a champion anyway."