Cheryl Mc Call
September 25, 1978 12:00 PM

Last year at Forest Hills tennis fans thought they had all the excitement they could handle. Transsexual Renee Richards made her U.S. Open debut, a spectator was shot in the stadium and a pigtailed mighty mite named Tracy Austin captivated even the professionals she ground into the Har-Tru. In all, it was a tough act to follow—for everyone, that is, except Pam Shriver, a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Lutherville, Md. with the lean and hungry look of a young Margaret Court. Serving and volleying with cool self-assurance, Shriver became the youngest finalist in the 91-year history of the Open, winning every set that she played—even against Wimbledon champ Martina Navratilova—until her loss in the finals to canny Chris Evert, 7-5, 6-4. “My one worry was that I’d get blown off the court,” Pam confided after the Evert match, “but I didn’t, and I’m happy for that.”

Remarkably, Pam’s unruffled poise on the tennis court was not replaced by the teenage giggles off it. Quick-witted and sometimes tart-tongued, she strode through throngs of admirers like a matinee queen and parried reporters’ questions with growing impatience. “Since the match with Martina, my life has been very different,” she observed. “It changed overnight. Like just going to the restaurant for breakfast and having people recognize me. It takes a while to get used to, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be all right.” Matter-of-factly confident about her game and her future, she regards none of her tennis elders with awe. For their part, the women pros have accepted her. “They think she’s cocky,” says one, “but no worse than a Jimmy Connors or a John McEnroe.” Pam’s on-court expletives worry some of her colleagues, especially at televised matches. (One of her “Goddamns” narrowly missed going out on the CBS network at Flushing Meadow; only a commercial saved her.)

Born on the Fourth of July, Pam is one of three daughters of Sam Shriver, an insurance consultant, and his wife, Margot. From the time Pam was 3 she would tag along to the tennis courts with her parents, swinging at balls with a sawed-off squash racket. “I played my first tournament when I was 8½,” Pam recalls, “but I didn’t really get serious about the game until I was 12 or 13.” Then, instructed by Australian-born Don Candy, coach of the now defunct World Team Tennis Baltimore Banners, she began working her way up through the juniors. By last spring she had reached the semifinals of the Virginia Slims tournament in Dallas, where she lost to Evonne Goolagong Cawley. “I did really well after my first three or four pro tournaments,” says Pam, who remains an amateur. “I thought it wouldn’t take that much for me to get to the top. Then I didn’t do so hot, and I had problems over at Wimbledon. But later this summer it all came back.”

Though Pam, a 145-lb. six-footer, plays a game as high-powered as any adult’s, her nemesis, curiously, is little Tracy Austin, six months her junior and nine inches shorter. They have played nine matches, and Tracy has won every time. “It’s only natural that there’s a rivalry between us,” says Pam. “We’ve been playing together since we were 12. Obviously I’d like to beat her, but it’s not keeping me up at night. I just think of myself as somebody who’s going to be No. 1 eventually, when I’m, like, 21 or 22. Anyway, Tracy and I are very different on and off the court. She’s kind of protected, and the only time she talks is at press conferences.” Still, admits coach Candy, “Tracy is a dark shadow in Pam’s way. She’s there, and Pam will have to cope with her.”

Now back at McDonogh, a coed private school outside Baltimore, Pam will cram two years of study into one in order to return to the tennis wars next year. For the moment,-however, she says, “I just want to lead a normal school life.” Her older sister, Marion, 18, is away at college, but the Shriver home is a lively place. Besides Eleanor, 7, and her parents, Pam’s companions include two Labrador retrievers, Missy and Babe; two horses, Mac and Jingles; and a cat that sometimes answers to Puss. Having sworn off riding and skiing as “too risky,” she unwinds by cooking (“mostly desserts”) and by listening to albums by Bread, Meat Loaf and Fleetwood Mac. Boyfriends? “I’ve had a couple, but nothing serious. It would be nice…”

Although Pam could have won $19,000 as runner-up in the U.S. Open, she has decided not to turn pro before leaving school. “It ticks me off,” says Billie Jean King. “I think she’s foolish to turn down the money. We worked too hard to get it.” Shriver is unmoved. “The money doesn’t really matter,” she says firmly. “It will probably come back to me later in endorsements because I’ve done so well.” She is, clearly, a young woman who knows her own mind. “Nobody pushes me ever,” she declares. “If they did, I’d tell them to take a hike.”

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