"And even if my head would go through," thought poor Alice, "it would he of very little use without my shoulders."
—Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Like Lewis Carroll's heroine, Pam Shriver was not quite right to wander about among those beds of bright flowers in Wonderland—too tall at six feet, too young at 16, and too often beaten by Tracy Austin. But last week at the U.S. Open, she was just the right size, and so many extraordinary things happened that she began to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.
Before the 13-day tournament, everyone conceded that Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert would meet in the finals, continuing a series that surely would run until the 15-year-old Austin outgrew her giggle. "You have no right to be here!" the Dormouse told Alice. "Don't talk nonsense," said Pam Shriver, who then went out and beat the top-seeded Navratilova in the semifinals on Friday to become the youngest ever to play for the championship. Maureen (Little Mo) Connolly was nearly 10 months older when she won the title in 1951.
Shriver's spunky 7-6, 7-6 triumph in a pair of anxious tie breakers had the crowd jumping about like Mad Hatters. The victory meant more than a teen-ager ousting the world's top-ranked woman player. it indicated that Shriver had moved out from under the shadow cast by Austin, who has whipped her in all of their nine meetings in the Juniors. Throughout the tournament the 16th-seeded Shriver toppled her more established rivals as if they were nothing more than playing cards, getting all of her wins in straight sets.
But of course it ended, as all dreams must, in the finals on Sunday when, just as in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the sentence was in before the verdict. No one thought the high school student from the Baltimore suburb of Lutherville had a chance against Evert, the Queen who had lopped off the heads of so many rivals. And indeed Evert became the first woman since Helen Jacobs (1932-35) to win four straight U.S. championships, dispatching Shriver 7-5, 6-4.
The quality of the match was superb—Evert's precision against the youngster's power. Shriver had her chances, most notably in the first set, but Evert never wavered; she said later that she felt extremely confident. As the match continued, Chris slowly increased the depth and pace of her shots and sharpened the angles, and on occasion she even came to the net, usually an unfamiliar area to her.
Shriver was worried that she might be embarrassed if she tried to rally from the baseline with the expert Evert, so Pam rushed in whenever possible. Forty-five times she charged in behind approach shots, and she won 18 points, almost thievery, because the baseline is where Evert lives. All told, Chris hit 24 winners with her groundstrokes, Pam only two, but the youngster pressed Chrissie with her serve: three aces, six service winners and a court full of winning volleys. "She stayed cool," noted Evert.
Except for a few fatal moments. After all, the defending champion was playing a 16-year-old girl who counts among her biggest moments the recent acquisition of a driver's license. Evert took the lead at 6-5 in the first set when Shriver netted a backhand volley, then served out the set.
The difference was that Evert now was playing from ahead. In the second set they twice traded service breaks, but Shriver blew a 40-love lead in the ninth game and eventually lost it to trail 5-4. In the next game she saved a couple of match points, but after an exchange at the net, Evert cracked a forehand down the line that Shriver could only nick with her racket, and it was over.
But there are no old phenoms, and Chris Evert must be feeling curiouser and curiouser, because at 23 she is still young but too old to be a prodigy. By any calculation, her drive toward yet another Open title, and her bid to reclaim her top ranking from Navratilova and avenge her Wimbledon defeat should have captivated the audience; instead she was cast as the heavy in her match against Shriver, as she was in her earlier meeting with Austin, a 7-5, 6-1 victim in the quarterfinals. In Evert's other matches, opponents crumbled in the face of her cool efficiency; she was never threatened. The audience applauded as it might have while watching the millionth Chevrolet roll off the assembly line. Against Wendy Turnbull in the semis, for instance, Evert needed only 48 minutes to win 6-3, 6-0. The match was interrupted in the middle of the first set and was completed the next day. "It was more fun when I was coming up," sighed Evert. "Tennis is a business. Pam and Tracy will learn that someday."