Nodding over a cup of coffee in a fashionable restaurant, Pam Shriver might be mistaken for just another sleepy deb recovering from a night out. Until she starts talking, at which point a smart-aleck smile appears and she is suddenly telling you about the chicken ranch she almost bought this week.
"It was 100 acres and I was inches away. Whenever the year ends, I start worrying about the tax bite. But my manager said, 'Look, if something suddenly goes wrong the last thing I want to be worrying about is chickens.' "
A little melon, a bagel, and more strong coffee please. Life would be exceedingly pleasant, if not for the lousy time change from Melbourne, which has her sitting bolt upright in the bed of her Lutherville, Md., town house at 3 a.m. "If I had it my way everything would run on Lutherville standard time," she says.
Conversation with Shriver, real estate junkie and veteran corporation, is a wide-ranging and breathless thing, and tennis tends to come up purely by accident. For instance, the purported reason for her swing through Washington yesterday was some publicity for the Virginia Slims of Washington Jan. 6-15 at George Washington University's Smith Center, where she will be seeded second behind Martina Navratilova. More to the point, however, are the four pieces of property and tennis club she owns. Her holdings now include a pretty little spot on Maryland's Eastern Shore. "I'm thinking of building something by the water," she said.
This is a 23-year-old who started following gold and silver prices at 16, was incorporated at 17 and is haunted by the fact she didn't buy Honda stock when it was low. She bought the indoor tennis club, the one where she started playing tennis at 8, after returning from overseas to discover it was going to be turned into a roller skating rink. "Over my dead body," she said.
Shriver's latest interest is writing, and her journals in Sports Illustrated during the U.S. Open fortnight were such a success they will be expanded into a book about the women's tour. Her observations are candid, frequently hilarious, and often biting.
Shriver's diverse interests have been used as one explanation why she has been unable to challenge Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd. In the happy life of Pam Shriver, it is a major unpleasantry that she cannot climb higher than No. 3 and she is currently fourth.
"It drives me nuts," she said, "partly because people ask me about it all the time, but also because it's true. No matter how hard you work, they're working hard too. They don't let up. Then you see the young kids coming up on you who are so good."
But as Shriver's interests have expanded, the pressure of being an aging wonder kid have decreased. A nagging shoulder injury finally appears to be healed and she has not withdrawn from a tournament this year, a first for her in many seasons.
To the younger players, many of whom have been increasingly troubled, her advice is, get a job.
"The reason I opened the club was because I was bored stiff with my own tennis," she said. "Not only should the kids try getting a job, how about a real job, like waiting on tables. Spend a couple of weeks getting yelled at because someone's steak is medium instead of well done."