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"People see her now and say if she was 5'5", what a player she'd be," says Landsdorp. "But if she was 5'5" and played like she does now, she'd still be unbelievable. The best thing she has going for her is that she knows how to win. She finds different ways every time. The thought of not being a great player never has entered her mind."
Tracy's earlier teacher, Vic Braden, is discreet about poaching on Landsdorp's territory, but he is only slightly less ecstatic over Tracy's future. "Her serve is very weak, even for her age," says Braden. "But it's the only thing about her typical of a girl. What's bad is the style—she hasn't changed since she was a little kid. I try to explain to Tracy that she's got a baby-puff serve; that when she gets into big tournaments, everybody is a Tracy. The trouble is she wins with it."
Braden especially likes Tracy's mental approach. "Many young players return to the womb on the big points," he says. "The distance between their elbow and body disappears. This choking aspect is like huddling in a corner. But this kid hits out on the big points. Obviously she loves it. Her temperament is cool, composed; she doesn't get mad. The mark of a champion is to win when you're supposed to. Tracy does. And she doesn't brood over losses, either."
In between her tennis and a voracious appetite for Tahitian Treat and Fritos, Tracy has found time to become a reasonably well-rounded little girl. Her favorite class is phys ed, but she reads things like Charlotte's Web and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and she is interested in the "Israeli problem in the Mideast." She collects stamps, coins and stickers to put on her notebooks. She follows the adventures of Patty Hearst as well as those of Nancy Drew. And she has made a long chain of gum wrappers to decorate her bedroom.
Homework never interferes with tennis. A straight-A student, Tracy gets her work done as soon as she arrives home from the courts. Jeff Austin remembers that in the fourth grade Tracy stayed up for three nights attempting to complete her math homework for the year.
Tracy says she doesn't remember exactly what she liked about tennis early on. "I started when I was so young," she says, "I didn't know what I was doing. Just followed all the rest. Being an Austin, I guess I had to. I'm so proud when people ask if I'm Jeff's sister. I started playing much earlier than my brothers and sisters. That was lucky. I know most people don't get a chance to be No. 1 in anything. Now that I have the chance, I want to keep hitting and working. I just have to play tennis."
Each of the Austins seems to feel that way. Jeff calls tennis "a common ground" which the family shares, something they can relax with and enjoy together. He says they have come to take this for granted.
Such a feeling is not always beneficial, as the Austins found out one day last summer. Tracy had reached the point where winning was a foregone conclusion rather than an achievement, where joy in the mere playing of the game had become overlooked.
As Tracy was leaving home for the nationals, Pam wished her good luck and take care and all the rest of the things sisters wish each other on parting. Then Pam forgot herself. She said, "Trace, be sure to win." Tracy broke out crying.
"I might not win it, you know," she said through the shakes and sniffles. And right then the Austins realized that their littlest one had shown them never to take tennis—or each other—for granted again.