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Pity Amy Frazier. Every day she clocks in for work on the WTA Tour, she must feel hopelessly out of place. In a profession awash in divas-in-training and look-at-me sensibilities, Frazier couldn't cut a less conspicuous figure if she tried. She has never made a movie cameo, an appearance to promote a signature perfume line or, for that matter, waves. She lacks a publicist, an aromatherapist, an agent and an attitude.
Most tennis fans couldn't pick Frazier out of a lineup. And who can blame them? Her matches are usually shunted to the hinterland courts, and even when she performs on the biggest stages, she looks as though she's playing the lunchtime doubles scramble at the local country club. A plain white visor does its best to contain her unruly, straw-colored hair. Her attire is modest, and her skin is so pale, she once overheard a spectator refer to her as Casper. "I'm in the highest risk group for skin cancer," she explains. "I put on two layers of [SPF] 30 every time I play."
Then there's the matter of Frazier's posttennis career plans. Most of her colleagues can barely contain themselves imagining the glamorous possibilities that await them after tennis. If the 33-year-old Frazier ever gets around to retiring--no sure thing--she envisions herself as ... a middle school math teacher. "All the women in my family have been educators, so it's sort of a natural thing for me," she says. "Plus, I've always been good with numbers."
A facility for math comes in handy when taking stock of Frazier's career. Though, typically, the milestone passed without fanfare, she set a record at January's Australian Open by playing in the main draw of her 68th Grand Slam event. In two weeks she will play the U.S. Open for the 20th straight year. Her career has spanned more than 800 matches; she's had wins over players from Appelmans (Sabine) to Zvereva (Natasha), with upsets of stars with names like Graf, Seles and Hingis along the way. More perspective: Frazier was nominated for Comeback Player of the Year 11 years ago. "I don't think about it much," she says, "but it is weird to play girls who weren't born when I began my career."
Frazier got her start in the late '70s at the suburban Detroit tennis club where her parents played, and she's been enthralled with the sport ever since. "Tennis--even the practicing--has always been fun for me," she says. "Believe me, I know how amazingly lucky I am to be doing something I love for a living." No burnout, no existential crises here. If you're looking for someone to gripe about the interminable pro schedule or the grueling travel or off-court obligations, you're standing in front of the wrong locker. "Amy is probably the most positive person I know," says Jill Craybas, one of Frazier's closest friends on the tour.
Frazier endured something of a slump last fall, falling to 79th in the WTA rankings. Without shame or self-consciousness, she entered ITF challenger events, usually the province of upstarts trolling for qualifying points, not thirtysomething veterans with more than $3 million in career prize money. Frazier won a singles title in Houston and a doubles title in Ashland, Ky., then returned to the WTA and won the Bell Challenge in Quebec, her eighth career tour singles championship. Apart from bolstering her confidence, the wins enabled her to finish 2005 at a respectable No. 52 in the rankings, the 17th time she concluded a season in the top 60. (Her highest ranking was 13th in 1995.)
Frazier's game, as you might expect from a quintessential Midwesterner, is devoid of guile or flash. "It's really pretty one-dimensional," she says without apology. She serves ably, and smacks awkward-looking, flatter-than-Kansas groundstrokes for as long as necessary. She generally approaches the net only on changeovers. Her comportment gives no insight into whether she's winning or losing. "But I don't even play to win or lose," she says. "It's about playing my best and feeling that I'm still doing small things to improve."
In tennis's rigid caste system, the stars get the endorsement booty and courtesy cars, but sometimes it's the rank and file, stretching their talents as far as they will go, who are every bit as admirable. Fans at this year's U.S. Open could do worse than stopping by to watch Frazier. Despite 20 years of anonymity, she's actually quite easy to spot. Just look for the player without an entourage, happy as hell simply to be out there.