Pam Shriver on facing a tennis opponent who's wearing a skintight onesie
As part of a series looking at the mind, body and soul of an athlete, ESPN's Prim Siripipat will speak to various tennis players throughout Wimbledon.
LONDON -- Pam Shriver was the fifth seed at Wimbledon in 1985 and was set to face fellow American and friend Anne White in the first round. It took three days for the match to start because of rain, so Shriver was more than ready to compete. She was not prepared, however, for what she would see after their five-minute warm-up.
Her opponent's outfit. Seriously.
As White peeled off her track suit, she revealed an all-white, one-piece Lycra bodysuit. The ensemble, which was skintight, caused an uproar at the All England Club -- arguably the most conservative, prestigious tennis venue in the world.
"Within a couple of changeovers, we must have had about every photographer that was on the grounds, and they were all looking at Anne White," Shriver said. "And I'm like, 'Hang on. I'm a US Open finalist. I've been in the top five most of the last few years. I'm the reason why we're on Court 2.'"
After the extended wait for the match to begin, it took three sets over a rain-filled two days to complete. Shriver fought through the distraction and pulled off the victory, eventually reaching that year's quarterfinals.
How was Shriver able to maintain her composure during a trying and wet week at Wimbledon? And the subsequent hoopla when she finally did reach the court?
espnW recently spoke with Shriver:
espnW: Before you saw this unitard, what was your mindset heading into the match?
Pam Shriver: Just normal. I knew that it was an edgy first round. I knew Anne White could play. She was a good serve and volleyer. She could play on grass. It was not an easy first round.
espnW: How did your mindset change after you saw the outfit?
Shriver: It's just sort of like, after all this waiting to play, now, I'm playing against this white unitard that I knew was going to cause headlines. I wasn't mad at her or anything. I just realized it was going to have be just another thing I would have to deal with.
espnW: Did your emotions get in the way, at least in the beginning?
Shriver: My emotions got in the way often.
espnW: Even before this match?
Shriver: Oh yeah. I was known as a very emotionally up-and-down player. I could have my emotions work for me. I could have my emotions work against me.
espnW: As an emotional player, how did you prevent this match from becoming a massive disaster?
Shriver: I could have lost that match in straight sets. She was, one, that good of a player, and two, I didn't have a lot of first-round losses, but I had some really bad losses.
espnW: What happens to players when their attention and focus are placed too much on their opponents rather than their game?
Shriver: Well, it's not good. It's your job to figure out how to turn it back to what you need to do.
espnW: How were you able to maintain that laser focus and keep out all those distractions?
Shriver: I was in the middle of my best years here. I loved grass courts. I won 10 of my 21 titles on grass, so for me, any time I played a match on grass, I had the mindset that my game was suited for grass. I would not have wanted to lose to Anne White no matter what. I would have felt some pressure even more because of the ploy and attention brought to the match because of the outfit. I would not have wanted to be the No. 5 seed to go out in the first round to a fashion stunt.
espnW: What was your overall mindset given everything that was going on?
Shriver: I was nervous. I was more uneasy. But I give myself credit, because when we went back out the next day on a different court, she had to wear a traditional outfit and it was a routine final set. The overriding thing in my head was just, "Figure out a way to win this match. Whatever she's wearing, whatever the photographers are there for, figure out a way to win the match."
espnW: Would a sports psychologist been useful during your career?
Shriver: I didn't have any formal sports psychiatry. I had no practice. I had no program to make myself mentally a better athlete. I wish I had -- I let way too many things I had no control over bother me. I now know that that is such wasted energy. I let opponents bother me, I let umpires bother me, I let line calls and people in the crowd bother me. I let the weather, the sun and the wind upset me on the tennis court -- none of which you have any control over.
Prim Siripipat joined ESPN as an anchor in 2011 after spending three years in Miami covering the Dolphins, Heat and Marlins. She has appeared on SportsCenter, First Take, NBA Tonight, as well as ESPN Radio. She played tennis at Duke University and, shortly after, began a career in broadcasting in Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @ESPNPrim.