From Rivals to Friends to Colleagues
For two weeks, ESPN has provided extensive coverage of tennis’ US Open in New York. The schedule ends Sunday with a doubles final match on ESPN2 at 1 p.m. ET and a special two-hour SportsCenter at the US Open that night on ESPN2 at 10 p.m.. Two of the analysts busy describing the action have been Chris Evert and Pam Shriver, and FrontRow spoke to each about the evolution of their relationship.
The first time Chris Evert and Pam Shriver played a singles match against each other, no less than the US Open championship was on the line. Rivals on the tour another 11 years until Evert’s 1989 retirement, a close friendship nevertheless developed. Now, as members of the ESPN tennis team, they can add the word colleague to their relationship.
It was no surprise that Evert reached the final of the 1978 US Open. After all, she was the three-time defending champ, on her way to an event record six titles. But who was the tall, gangly kid with the oversized racquet? Shriver, a 16-year-old, six-foot-two amateur, was playing in only her second Grand Slam event (and even took the subway every day to the tournament! “I had to transfer trains carrying my racquets,” she remembers).
Despite being ranked #16 — having won a small tournament earlier that year and reaching the third round of Wimbledon that summer — Shriver reaching the final was unexpected. “I was stunned,” Pam admits, especially considering her opponent in the semifinal was the top-seeded Martina Navratilova. Shriver edged the future immortal (and her future partner in a record-setting doubles career) 7-6, 7-6.
What did Evert, the no. 2 seed, know about her unexpected opponent? “I knew she was tall. And had an afro! She had a very potent serve and volley game and had the size to cover the court. But I was confident I had the game to beat her.”
For her part, Shriver confesses, “I was really scared before the final. It was my first time on national TV. I simply played my game, serve and volley, chip and charge.”
That strategy almost paid off. “I was impressed with her,” Evert recalls. “The score (7-5, 6-4) was closer than I expected.”
Travelling around the world to tournaments and playing together on Wightman Cup and Fed Cup teams, the two became friends. “I was attracted to her sense of humor right from the start,” Evert recalls, adding “We had a lot of laughs.” Shriver agrees their personalities meshed. “We had two different personalities on the court,” she explains, “but we are more similar off the court than most people expect.”
Over the years, the ties grew closer, through life’s ups and downs. “There’s been weddings, funerals and the birth of six children between us,” Shriver says. “Chris was the first phone call I got when my husband died.” As Evert puts it, “We’ve each gone through many emotional times together and we’ve been there for each other.”
Now, as colleagues for ESPN, they enjoy working together, and the chance to continue the friendship. “We talk about our kids and all sorts of things,” Evert says. “It’s not about tennis anymore. That’s how I know it’s a real friendship.”
Shriver is thrilled her one-time rival and longtime friend is now her teammate. “Things sure go full circle in life sometimes,” she says. “It’s great to have her on board and help each other. Isn’t that what friends are for?”