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The temptation Jennifer faces, says Austin, is to overplay and overtrain. "At Jennifer's age, you tend to see things short-term," she says. "She has to learn to take her time. If she gets hurt, she has to listen to her body instead of thinking, 'I've got to play Kansas City next week and Chicago after that.' Meanwhile, tournament organizers call and say, 'Come on, we need you. You're a drawing card.' "
Austin thinks Jennifer must learn three things: patience, patience and patience. "The most important thing for her is to enjoy tennis, even when she starts losing," says Austin. "She's got to continue to develop her game and not be concerned with results. If she can, then the sky's the limit."
"Three-A, plus two-A, plus six-A," says Jennifer. "No, that's not right. It's three-A, parenthesis, two-A, plus six-A, closed parentheses." She's writing an algebraic equation on a locker room blackboard at the Forum in Los Angeles in November. "It's my homework," she tells a bunch of reporters. She has just given Laura Gildemeister, a 25-year-old pro who will be ranked 20th in the world at the end of the year, a 6-4, 6-1 lesson in power tennis. Jennifer zipped through the exhibition as if she feared she would miss recess. Many women players popcorn their shots just to keep the ball in play. Jennifer uses her size (she's already 5'6½") and speed offensively, whacking backhands that dip as if gouged by a nail file. By the end of the second set, Gildemeister was grunting and groaning like a convict sentenced to hard labor.
"Playing her was hard," says Jennifer, diplomatically. "No, I mean she hit the ball hard. I try to mix it up. I mean, not so much in this match. I didn't really think I could. I mean, not really."
Jennifer seems modest and slightly uncomfortable as the center of media attention, but she is quietly confident about her ability. A year ago she even got to hit with Martina Navratilova. "It was, like, so exciting," she says. "I couldn't believe I was actually playing against Martina. I was, like, jeez, this is how she really plays. She was strong, waaay better than the people I play. She had so many more things: more power, more shots, and her serve! I mean, that was good!"
So how's school, Jennifer?
"School's O.K.," she says with a shrug.
"It's just O.K?" interjects Stefano.
"I mean, it's not great, but it's all right for now."
"Don't say that!" says Stefano.