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Tennis / Julie Cart : Shriver Takes a Few 'Passing Shots' at the Tour

October 05, 1986|Julie Cart

If you have been thinking of life on the professional tennis tour as glamorous, Pam Shriver is here to set you straight.

If you read her new book, "Passing Shots," her diary of a year on the tour, you'll hear more than you care to about shoulder injuries, tight travel schedules and petty bickering in the locker room. You'll also get a real feel for the grind, the pranks, the complex personalities and bizarre life style that comes with professional tennis.

Shriver is one of the most articulate players in the game. Indeed, it is her contemplative nature that has hindered her somewhat in her career: Should I quit playing games and get an adult job? Do I have the killer instinct to be a world-class athlete? If I eat this ice cream sundae tonight will I have to run two miles tomorrow?

Shriver does nothing in the book if not question herself and the direction of her life. But it is this ability to step away from the game, this outsiders' perspective, that makes her book so engaging. Shriver tells us what we would like to hear about the goings-on in the locker room and the board room.

"I tried to tell it all, but some secrets you can't tell," Shriver said in a telephone interview. "The book is not supposed to be a tell-all. It's supposed to be a look at the women's tour--the life style."

Shriver said that although she makes this disclaimer--that the book is not a gossip mine--she is finding on her national promotional tour that interviewers invariably go right for the dirt. "They want to know what Chris and Martina 'are really like,' " Shriver said.

"Really, though, I thought of my parents when I was writing. They don't really know what happens on the tour, and by the time I get home, I forget to tell them. It wasn't a premeditated book at all.

"It grew to be an obsession, almost. I'd sit down on an airplane and, even before we took off, I'd have my tray-table down, writing. It was like, you know how you go to sleep, and you wake up and you're landing? It was that way with my writing."

Shriver's book is personal. It is, after all, her life on the tour. But through her experiences we come to see what it must be like for all the players.

There's camaraderie, like driving all night to a tournament with her coach and her friend Carling Bassett: "It's 6:30 p.m., and Hank, Carling and I are headed north on the Florida turnpike towards Hilton Head, South Carolina, the next stop on the tour. Hank is behind the wheel of an enormous Oldsmobile Delta 88. The trunk is larger than most cars! Carling is sitting in the back seat, singing and munching sour-cream-and-onion potato chips."

But enough of the glamour. There's also a glimpse of the pain, as in the first time Shriver had her legs waxed:

"Here's what that sweet old lady did to me. First she applied a steaming layer of hot wax onto the backs of my calves. She firmly pressed a strip of cloth over the waxed area. Then with one sharp, rapid tear, the defoliation began. She pressed another cloth over the same area and let it rip. I looked back at my leg, trying to remain calm. Was there any skin there? Fortunately, I had only requested waxing from the knee down."

There is some gossip, often with names left out. We are told of a player who, concerned about keeping her weight down, vomited several times a day. There is the unnamed player who defaulted in the middle of a match, unable to bear the pressure. Shriver writes that this player suffers from such serious depression that she needs professional help.

But more often, Shriver is upbeat. She gingerly tells a few tales about the randier side of Chris Evert Lloyd, a side well known to players on the tour. It was with Lloyd that a slightly inebriated Shriver attended a Tina Turner concert, dancing on chairs.

Shriver also takes a shot at the Maleevas, two dour sisters from Bulgaria. Shriver has named them Boo and Hoo. "But the Maleevas are still shy and kind of sulky off court, and on the court they both look as if they are going to burst into tears at any moment."

Said Shriver of comments from other players about her book: "The reaction has been slow. I gave a copy to Chris and Martina and Elise (Burgin). They were all aware that I was keeping a journal. I don't think anyone will be too mad at me."

It would probably be hard for any of the players to hold a grudge for long against Shriver. The book is mischievous, light and, above all, honest. Hard to get mad at that.

As a parting shot to "Passing Shots", we'll leave with Shriver's rules to live by on the tour: "Tennis players are notoriously tight with their money, and some of the Aussies are legendary for being cheap.

" 'Short arms with deep pockets' is their expression. Here are the Five Commandments of a tight tennis player:

"(1) Thou shalt always return a tournament car's gas tank on empty.

"(2) Thou shalt never buy sodas during a tournament, but take freebies home from the players' lounge.

"(3) Thou shalt avoid buying tennis balls at all costs.

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