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Barry McDermott
September 18, 1978
But in a rousing final, Chris Evert, at 23 an old pro, awakened 16-year-old Pam Shriver from a sweet, dazzling dream
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September 18, 1978

She Was A 12-day Wonder

But in a rousing final, Chris Evert, at 23 an old pro, awakened 16-year-old Pam Shriver from a sweet, dazzling dream

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Evert invited a friend from Phoenix, Brenda Bricklin, to visit New York so she would have someone to talk to, and for entertainment she went to see the Broadway show, Beatlemania, alone. Still, she said that she was happy as a challenger, enthusiastic in a way she never could be when she was No. 1. As for the indifferent crowds, "I'm used to it now," she said.

More than anyone at the U.S. Open, Evert had reason to complain about the change from clay to a hard surface, because she had not lost a set on clay since 1975 nor a match on the soft stuff since August of 1973. Typically, she did not complain. During the early rounds Evert might have been a bit apprehensive as Navratilova, who had won their last two matches, stormed through opponents with her powerful serve and volley game, losing only 15 games in eight sets. Navratilova appeared unbeatable, but on Friday morning, shortly before she took the court against Shriver, her friend and mentor, former golfer Sandra Haynie, was not too sure. "She's tired mentally," said Haynie.

For her part, Shriver appeared a lamb ready to be taken. During practice and matches she kept up a constant stream of mild imprecations and self-rebuke over mistakes, and while warming up on a field court with her Aussie coach, Don Candy, she flung her racket away in disgust over an inability to serve properly. Candy rushed to offer counsel.

A 49-year-old former Davis Cup player and a disciple of the rigorous training methods of Harry Hopman, Candy has toughened his prot�g�e so that, while Austin appears to be a young 15, Shriver is a baby-faced killer. "When Pam puts it all together," says Candy, "she'll be the best in the world."

And for a day she was. Although she is gangly and slight, most of Shriver's 145 pounds is muscle, built from Candy's fatiguing drills and weightlifting. She is no frail child. "When I look across the net, I look up," said Navratilova when asked if she felt compassion playing a young girl.

Shriver's game is composed of two parts: the first, an attacking serve and volley that could become the best in tennis; the second, a patient vigil from the baseline, waiting for the short ball that allows her to rush the net. She uses an oversized Prince racket, waving it about as if it were a giant paddle, and in the semis she made only two unforced errors at the net while cracking off 13 winners, including five aces, with her slice serve that put added strain on Martina's already sore left shoulder.

Shriver broke Navratilova twice, once in each set, but each time Martina broke back in the next game. Then Alice became just the right size. In the first set she saved four set points, two each in the 10th and 12th games, when she could have collapsed, and forced a tie breaker. This she won 7-5 when Navratilova netted a volley after Pam hit a precise backhand down the fine, following a style Candy teaches. "She goes for winners," he says. "There's been too much of that 'safe' stuff in women's tennis."

As the match continued, Shriver's serve grew stronger, and Navratilova became edgy. And, when it came down to what Navratilova calls "the crunch time,"—the second tie breaker—Martina's serve needed a gyroscope, while Shriver blasted away. The end came when Pam charged the net and a pressured Navratilova sailed a backhand long to lose the tie breaker 7-3.

"I'm sick of tennis," Martina said later. And of little kids. Tracy Austin had ended Martina's 37-match winning streak earlier this year. "Everybody said. 'She'll choke. She'll choke.' But she didn't."

Shriver's victory was particularly satisfying because Austin was sitting in a courtside box. Early this year, Shriver playfully called Austin, "a little twerp," which Tracy repaid by going bananas whenever she beat her. At the conclusion of her match with Martina, Shriver made a point of not displaying any emotion. "I didn't want to be like some people," she said pointedly.

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