A proud American, born on the 4th of July, Pam Shriver has always been the first to put her hand up to help and give a hand to anyone who needed it.
I’m lucky to count Pam as a friend. She is fun, generous and inspirational. Great qualities for any friend. One of my earliest memories of Pam was playing my first US Open in 1986. I was just 17 and had won my way through qualifying and my first round match against Anne Minter. In my second round match against American Robyn White, I looked up into the stands and saw Pam watching. Of course, she was already one of my heroes and I clearly remember thinking, why has Pam Shriver come to watch me? There was the very real chance she may have come to watch Robyn who was ranked inside the Top 20 at the time. Robyn defeated me in three sets and I never did find out who Pam came to see!
Pam always had a plan. On court it was mostly the two-step plan. Serve and volley, or return and charge. She loved the slice and was always in the moment. Although she was a right-hander and I’m a lefty, she certainly was an inspiration for my serve-volley game. She won many of her doubles titles (including 21 Grand Slams) with partner Martina Navratilova and although everyone always rightly talks about Martina’s amazing volleys, Pam was also a master at the shot.
On court she never missed the put-aways or that second shot. She knew how to apply pressure. With that reach and that oversized racquet, she was always coming forward. She was the same off court. Always moving forward. She knew how to play the mental game as well. Finding her opponent’s Achilles heel – it was better to be on her team!
She was President of the WTA’s Board of Directors from 1991-1994, which inspired me to join the Board in 1994. In 1995 and 1996 I served as Treasurer. I would not have gotten involved if Pam hadn’t inspired me.
I remember she always seemed to come to board meetings straight from the court with ice strapped to her shoulder. She just got on with the next job on her list. Giving each task her all. She was always switched on during a match or a meeting. She could laugh at herself and others! She was always clear on what had to be done.
We played doubles together in the summer of 1995. The serve-volleyer’s dream, the grass court season. We reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, not a career highlight, but not a bad run for either of us. The following year I paired up with Luke Jensen to reach the mixed doubles finals at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, and then in 1997 I went on to reach the final back at Wimbledon with my Dutch partner, Manon Bollegraf. Who knows, maybe Pam’s magic played a part!
I always loved that Pam is a minority owner of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. She just loves sports – and is naturally an insightful tennis commentator. She is also a philanthropist, launching an annual tennis charity gala that raised millions for causes such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Baltimore Community Foundation.
Today, she is a vital voice on the board of WTA Charities and continues to contribute her time and energy in areas ranging from autism to JDRF, as well as youth initiatives such as the First Break Academy for urban youngsters in Los Angeles, which she helped found in 2015, and Up2Us Sports, which supports coaches as they develop engaging community-based programs. A mother of three, Pam has always been a nurturer of young talent.
Pam knows how to hustle, both on the court, working hard for a point, and off. She won’t hesitate to ask you to jump on board with one of her precious causes. She believes, and that’s that.
I now teach tennis at the grass roots level as well as high-performance kids in the beautiful Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia. But a couple of years ago, after enjoying a day of watching tennis at Wimbledon, I was walking towards the village, when a voice called out to me. It was Pam, who ran across the street for a hug, kiss and catch-up. That’s Pam. She always stops to make time for her friends – even if it means risking life and limb crossing at Wimbledon village.
At this year’s Australian Open – astonishingly the only Grand Slam so far in 2020 - Pam and I reminisced about playing together in 1995. With all her career wins and all her doubles partners, I was very touched she remembered our matches. Hopefully we get to reminisce again soon.
More from the My Inspiration Series:
Vera Sukova by Helena Sukova
Martina Navratilova by Hana Mandlikova
Lindsay Davenport by Dinara Safina
Miloslav Mecir by Daniela Hantuchova
Daphne Fancutt by Wendy Turnbull
Althea Gibson by Katrina Adams
Billie Jean King by Ilana Kloss
Judith Wiesner by Barbara Schett
Nadezhda Ilyina by Nadia Petrova