It was 8:20 by
the clock in London's Royal Albert Hall last Saturday night when Pam Shriver,
playing with doubles partner Chris Evert in the seventh, last, and deciding
match against Great Britain for the Wightman Cup, split the intimacy and
dignity of the historic concert hall with a schoolgirlish shriek of dismay. A
lob from Sue Barker had soared over her tousled head and landed far out of
reach in her backhand corner. The score was now 15-40, with Shriver serving,
and two match points for the home team of Barker and Virginia Wade.
Shriver got a pat
of encouragement from Evert, who at the advanced age of 23 was a motherly
figure among such teammates as 16-year-old Shriver and 15-year-old Tracy
Austin. But then Wade returned Shriver's next serve with a thunderous topspin
forehand that Pam could barely spoon up with her outsized Prince racket, and
Barker, as she had done a number of times during the match, moved in and
clubbed a simple forehand volley winner between the two Americans. The U.S.
gamble on youth had failed, and the underrated British had won the Cup for only
the 10th time since the annual competition started with a 7-0 U.S. whitewash at
Forest Hills in 1923.
The Americans had
won by the same lopsided score last November at Oakland, Calif., and last week,
after the first match at Albert Hall, in which Evert crushed Barker 6-2, 6-1,
it looked as though the U.S. was again off and running. Evert's only lapse in
that match was losing her serve in the first game of the second set. But
Barker's hope was a fleeting one, and she went to pieces with unforced errors
and double faults on crucial points.
When Shriver, the
gangling high school student from Lutherville, Md. who was making her Cup
debut, then came on stage before the 7,000 partisan fans, she was naturally
jittery. Since losing to Evert in the finals of the U.S. Open in early
September, she had played only two tournament matches, and neither was against
a mature, ranking player. Her concentration had been on her school work, some
of which she had brought with her to England. To top it off, she had the
opponent was Michele Tyler, herself hardly a dodderer at 20 and a relative
newcomer to big-time tennis but a major British hope for the future. The first
set was a tight one, which Shriver won 7-5, and she broke Tyler's serve to
start the second set. Then Tyler began banging winners from the baseline,
passing Pam on her frustrating visits to the net. Shriver began commiting
errors, with both her backhand and volley going awry, and Tyler won the next
two sets, and the match, 6-3, 6-3.
On Friday night,
with the score now 1-1, the other U.S. Wightman Cup debutante, Tracy Austin,
the youngest ever to play in the competition, faced Wade, the 1977 Wimbledon
champion. Austin, who recently turned pro and had won a tournament in Stuttgart
just a week before, seemed cool and confident—for the first set, anyway. It
took her less than half an hour to beat Wade, 6-3. Ginny's backhand was acting
up, and it seemed that the U.S. would move one match closer to the Cup. But
Wade finally pulled herself together to take the seesaw second set 7-5. Now the
pressure from the old pro began to affect the brand new one. Austin did move
from 1-3 to 3-4 in the final set, but she just couldn't make it all the way,
losing the next two games and the match.
spectator during these three matches was Billie Jean King, who made the trip as
player-coach of the U.S. team. Considering herself too decrepit for singles at
34, she decided to play only one doubles match. After a 30-minute break. King
teamed with Austin against Anne Hobbs and Sue Mappin, and the U.S. polished off
the Britons in the first set 6-2.
In the second
set, King, Mappin and Austin were all broken early, but Hobbs held and the
British led 3-1. The Americans broke Mappin to tie it 3-3. Again the British
broke Austin to go ahead 5-4 and win the set when Austin drove a forehand into
the net. The third and deciding set was a 6-2 waltz for the U.S., and the score
was now tied at 2-2, at the end of the second day.
three-match schedule began disastrously for the British as Evert, admittedly
"playing the best tennis of my career," simply ate up Wade 6-0, 6-1 in
54 minutes. Evert, who had been practicing during her stay in England with her
new beau, John Lloyd, a member of-the British Davis Cup team, was hitting the
lines and corners on every shot. In the first four games of the first set,
Chrissie lost only five points, breaking Wade at love in the fourth game.
The second set
began with more of the same faultless play by Evert. She took the first seven
points and won the first two games. There was murmuring among the audience when
Wade broke back in the third game. But the lapse seemed to strengthen Evert's
game and will even more and Wade, still having trouble with her backhand,
crumpled completely as Evert dropped only five points in the last three games.
Quiet again prevailed.