Monday, September 23, 2019

Hall of Famer Shriver says Serena era could be over

Pam Shriver emcees the Sutter Lawn Tennis
Club's 100th-anniversary celebration on Satur-
day night in Sacramento. Photo by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. – She formed half of perhaps the greatest women's doubles team in history.
   Pam Shriver teamed with Martina Navratilova to win 20 Grand Slam doubles titles, tied for the record with Louise Brough and Margaret Osborne duPont. Venus and Serena Williams are tied for third place at 14 with Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva.
   Shriver also won one Grand Slam doubles title with Zvereva, a major mixed doubles crown with Spain's Emilio Sanchez and the Olympic gold medal in women's doubles with Zina Garrison at Seoul in 1988.
   In singles, Shriver reached one Grand Slam final, at 16 in the 1978 U.S. Open, and a career-high No. 3 in 1984. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002.
   Now an ESPN commentator, Shriver emceed the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club's 100th-anniversary celebration on Saturday night. Sutter Lawn is one of 10 clubs in the United States and 77 in the world that are at least that old.
   After dinner, Shriver conducted a Q&A with Hall of Famers Rosemary Casals, a San Francisco native; Dennis Ralston, a native of Bakersfield in Southern California; and Charlie Pasarell, who was inducted in the contributor category. All but Shriver, 57, played in the Central California Championships at Sutter Lawn. The tournament ended after the 1972 edition.
   Shriver lives in Brentwood in West Los Angeles with her three children – George Jr., 15, and twins Kate and Sam, 13 – all with her ex-husband, Australian actor George Lazenby.
   Shriver's first husband, former Walt Disney Company lawyer Joe Shapiro, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 20 years ago today. One of her two siblings, Marion, died of cancer at 37 in 1997.
   Shriver, a Baltimore native and minority owner of the Orioles, spoke insightfully and candidly to a reporter during Saturday night's festivities.
   Q: Have you been to Sacramento before?
   A: Yes, I have. A couple of momentous occasions – when my twins came up here from L.A. three and a half years ago for an overnight gold-panning camp in Old Sacramento, so I went on a field trip, and our beloved golden retriever came from a nearby mom-and-pop breeder. They do one litter a year, and I got the last pup. The last time I was at the airport before today was three years ago when I picked up our beautiful Bo. It's short for Lamborghini because that's my oldest child's idea of a great car to have at some point in his life.
   Q: How surprised were you by Bianca Andreescu's victory over Serena in the U.S. Open final?
   A: Before the tournament, she was my outside pick based on winning Indian Wells and in her home country of Canada. She was injured a lot in between, but I just thought this kid can win the big ones and she seemed to have something special. She showed that in New York. She didn't play her best, a little like when (Naomi) Osaka won the Australian Open this year. (Andreescu) was able to win without playing her best, but she played a great final, even when Serena made the charge.
   Q: What makes Andreescu special?
   A: Her forehand is maybe the best groundstroke in women's tennis right now. She's an athletic, powerful mover. She's only 19. You can kind of see where she got the bad shoulder because her serve is a weapon. She has a pretty live arm. She's going to have to watch that and take care of it.
   To me, the most impressive thing was the intangibles, her belief under great pressure. And there was no greater pressure than when Serena got back to 5-all because (Andreescu) already had a set and 5-1 to win her first major. She was still able to win it from there.
   Q: Serena will turn 38 on Thursday. How much longer do you think she'll play, and how many Grand Slam singles titles will she end up with?
   A: It's really been a huge setback to lose four straight major finals, not winning a set. She has to work hard physically and emotionally to get over that. One of the things I don't know is her commitment to truly working not for just a month or two but for a full 12 months. I think she can win one or two more, but it's gotten a lot harder. The surface and conditions at the Australian Open are tough – even though she's won it (seven) times – whether it's a heat wave or the hardcourts being tough on her knee.
   You look at women's tennis, and even though there hasn't been a great champion step up besides Serena in this era, the depth one through 20 is crazy. Sometimes you can look at players ranked 10 through 18, and they look almost the same as two through 10. It's who finds their game at the right time, like Sloane (Stephens) two years ago at the (U.S.) Open or (Jelena) Ostapenko at the French two and a half years ago – I mean some crazy results.
   Going back to Serena, I thought she would have won either the Wimbledon final or the U.S. Open final. Now I'm a little concerned. It may be a lot harder even getting to a final. But nothing she does will surprise me. I'm just saying there have been a lot of emotional scars the last two years. 
   Q: You wouldn't be surprised if she didn't win any more Slams?
   A: No, I wouldn't be surprised at all. And I wouldn't be surprised if she passed Margaret Court. She could end up just tying her, maybe eke out one more at Wimbledon next year. Even in six or nine months, her serve can still be the best in women's tennis. (But) her serve hasn't been as consistent. Her movement is not as good, and she can't play defense like she did. In my mind, she's a good step down from her peak.
Charlie Pasarell, second from left, an International Tennis Hall of Famer in the
contributor category, toasts Sutter Lawn's 100th anniversary. Also shown, left to
right, are Hall of Famers Rosemary Casals, Dennis Ralston and Pam Shriver.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Q: Is Coco Gauff the real deal?
   A: She looks like it. It's way too early to tell for sure. I think she has some flaws with her forehand and second serve. She needs to not get on the full-time professional training mentality. She still needs to develop her game. (She has) world-class movement. She could be one of the top two or three movers in the women's game right now. I saw her close some gaps – where the ball was and from courtside where she was – and I was astounded by how quickly she covered the court. She has great power for 15.
   She looks like the real deal, but there's so many things that can happen – injuries, you get sidetracked, you don't develop your game ... you never know.
   Q: Do you see her winning multiple Slams?
   A: Based on what we saw this summer – if she loves it and stays healthy, she should have a 20-year career – yes. But it's never a sure thing. You're talking to someone who got to the (singles) final of the U.S. Open in my second major. I never got back. Everybody said, 'You're going to win many of 'em.' I didn't. I'm maybe more skeptical than some, (but) it's not an automatic.
   Q: Roger Federer turned 38 last month. How much longer do you think he'll play, and will he win any more Slams?
   A: I think he'll play one more (calendar) year, then he'll play his last tournament in 2021, maybe Wimbledon. That's almost two years. That's just a hunch. If he's still enjoying it, he might see if he can stay in the top 10 after 40.
   Some of his lackluster play at the U.S. Open (losing to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals) was because of the leftover sadness from not closing out Wimbledon. To have (almost) gotten to 21 (Slams) against (Novak) Djokovic, that was a big match for history, and he came up short on the (two championship) points. He says he gets over things quickly, but no one gets over that loss, not even Federer.
   If he stays healthy, he's still dangerous. He's gotten tactically smarter as a player. So has Serena, actually. As you get older, sometimes you lose a little bit of your physical gifts, but you can get smarter as a player, and I think he's done that.
   Q: Who will end up with the most Slams – Federer, Rafael Nadal or Djokovic?
   A: Right now, most people would bet on Djokovic because of his age (32). The shoulder thing I think is a bit of a fluke – the left shoulder. It could be Djokovic at the end of the day. I don't think it'll be Federer, which is going to upset a lot of Fed fans, but there are two guys who are considerably younger, and Nadal is only one behind him. And Nadal (33) is going to still be a favorite to win two of the next three French Opens. I think he'll lose at least one of the next three. Nadal is always this close to having another serious knee injury, but he seems to have figured out how to manage it. (Platelet-rich plasma therapy) seems to have really helped.
Left to right, ex-pro doubles specialist Christina Hinds (formerly Fusano),
current pro doubles star Raquel Atawo (formerly Kops-Jones) and Sacramento
Mayor Darrell Steinberg appear on the stage at Sutter Lawn on Saturday night.
Hinds and Atawo won the 2003 NCAA doubles title while playing for Cal. Both
live in Sacramento. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Q: No U.S. man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick in the 2003 U.S. Open. How much longer will the drought last, and who will end it?
   A: First off, from when I played (1979-97) and everything that happened before me and everything that happened after I finished, if you had told me we'd go 16 years between U.S. men's major champions, I would never have believed it. I could only believe it if I had seen what happened in the last 16 years.
   As soon as the Big Three are no longer grabbing hold of virtually every one, a lot of them will be up for grabs, just like in the women's game. That'll be the time when they have a better chance. Someone might sneak in there and win one. But honestly, I still don't see anybody where I'd say they're going to win one. You can look at (Dominic) Thiem and say eventually he'll win a French Open. The way (Daniil) Medvedev tactically plays the game, you sort of see him winning a few.
   (Frances) Tiafoe? Is he going to decide he's going to train and be a professional tennis player year-round, or is he going to dip in and out with his dedication?
   I'll just take a guess – (the drought will end) in the next five years. I think it'll be right around the 20-year mark. It would be a great story if (34-year-old John) Isner could sneak in before he retires, but he's going to have a harder and harder time staying healthy through a two-week run at a major, three-out-of-five sets.
   Q: Any guesses as to who will end the drought?
   A: I'd like to see Frances – he's from my home state – step up and be consistent, be really hungry and really, really want to be a major champion. You see what Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, even Stan Wawrinka go through. Look what Andy Murray went through to win his three. Frances has the background to be that hungry – his family came from nothing. To be a major champion, you have to be determined to leave no stone unturned.
   Q: You haven't seen that commitment from Tiafoe?
   A: Not yet, but guys mature later. It's not to say he won't, but you kind of look at people's patterns. People develop patterns pretty early. I like him a lot. He's fun.
   Q: Can you see Taylor Fritz or Reilly Opelka ending the drought?
   A: Fritz's improvement since he became a dad has been a little bit surprising in that he's taken that distraction and channeled it into being more professional. He's a great ball-striker but not a great mover. He's become a better mover and all-around such a steady player.
   Opelka is an interesting one. He's a wild card because of his athleticism for his size (6-foot-11 or 2.11 meters). He could be the one if he keeps improving. You've got to look for trends. You mentioned two guys who have improved a lot in the last 12 months. If they can improve the same amount in the next 12 months, it doesn't take much (so that) all of a sudden, you're knocking on the door of the top 10.
   Just look at what Opelka's serve can be at 7 feet tall. It's (tremendous) now; I think it can get even better with hitting his spots. It's just crazy how much of an advantage that is for Isner and Opelka. It's like a volleyball spike every single serve.
   Q: Does Opelka move well enough to win a Slam someday?
   A: Most people say among (Ivo) Karlovic, Isner and Opelka – the ones between 6-11 and 7 feet – Opelka is the best mover. And he's at an age (22) where he's only going to get better with his movement. When I see him rally at the back of the court, I don't feel the unease that I've felt sometimes with Isner or Karlovic through the years. I actually feel like he can hang in there.
   Q: One more question: How tough is it to root for the Orioles?
   A: (Roars with laughter) It's pretty hard right now, but living in L.A. helps because it's not right there in front of my face the way it would be if I lived in Baltimore. They have a new general manager and a new manager. You just have to give it time. They're playing some exciting baseball; they have some good athletes. I'm patient ... I'm patient.

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