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Oh, Were It Only The Racket
Barry McDermott
April 09, 1984
After a string of spiritless losses, the burning question in tennis is: What's wrong with Andrea Jaeger?
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April 09, 1984

Oh, Were It Only The Racket

After a string of spiritless losses, the burning question in tennis is: What's wrong with Andrea Jaeger?

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Andrea Jaeger has developed an odd and troubling deficiency in her tennis game. Four years after turning pro, she no longer seems to care whether she wins or loses. Though she's only 18, the steel has disappeared from her eyes, and her fight and spunk, once the cornerstones of her game, have been replaced by a disturbing proclivity for going through the motions on the court. She fades in and out of matches like a station on a car radio with no antenna. To wit:

•September 1982, New York City: Toward the end of a 6-1, 6-2 loss to Chris Evert Lloyd at the U.S. Open, Jaeger appears to give up. In his summation of the match, CBS commentator and former Wimbledon and U.S. champion Tony Trabert says, "I'm terribly disappointed in the effort of Andrea Jaeger.... I just don't feel she really had her heart and soul in the semifinal of the U.S. Open. I just don't understand that kind of thing. She sort of was in a hurry to get it over."

•January 1983, Houston: Jaeger loses 6-1, 6-3 to Zina Garrison in the local Virginia Slims tournament. Instead of playing her patient baseline game, Jaeger charges the net wildly. Many of her normally pinpoint ground strokes fly six and seven feet beyond the baseline. Afterward Garrison says, "On certain shots Andrea just stuck her racket out there like she was giving me the points." Jaeger says that menstrual cramps hampered her running.

•March 1983, New York: Jaeger drops the final 16 points in a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 Virginia Slims Championships loss to Billie Jean King. In the last game Jaeger lackadaisically double-faults three times to fall behind 0-40. King then hits a drop shot that's much too deep. Jaeger makes little effort to reach it, and the match is over. She says she had a foot injury.

•November 1983, Tokyo: Jaeger falls 6-2, 6-2 in the Lions Cup to Andrea Temesvari in what one tour insider describes as a "horrible and disgusting" performance. Jaeger says she had a cold.

•January 1984, Washington: Jaeger loses 6-0, 6-1 to Lisa Bonder in the local Slims tournament. Jaeger sails ball after ball well beyond the court and barely moves for Bonder's shots. Once, after two Jaeger shots in a row land six feet out, the crowd of 3,800 boos and hisses. In the postmatch press conference Jaeger again says she has been suffering from menstrual cramps. Later, several officials on the women's tour talk to her about her performance. "I thought we had it all worked out," says Lee Jackson, referee for the Women's Tennis Association.

•February 1984, Houston: Despite playing listlessly, Jaeger leads Wendy Turnbull 5-4 in the first set of a Slims tournament match. During the changeover, promoter George Liddy comes onto the court and angrily tells Jaeger, "If you don't feel like trying, then get off the court." Jaeger wins the next game and the set, but then appears to lose all interest in the match. She doesn't even sit during changeovers. Instead, she marches directly to the other side of the court, where she stands defiantly, waiting with one hand on her hip and bouncing a ball with her racket. She quickly loses the next two sets 6-2, 6-2. Jaeger skips the press conference, but sends word through a tour official that she "isn't feeling well."

•February 1984, New York: In a 6-2, 7-6 Slims Championships loss to Kathy Horvath, Jaeger alternates belting winners and spraying balls all over Madison Square Garden. Once again, she makes only halfhearted attempts to reach shots that aren't hit within easy reach. At one point she stops, looks around and mutters to herself, "Why is everybody always watching me?" A few days later her father, Roland, who's also her coach, says, "Her head isn't in it right now. I hope it's a passing phase."

Can this be the same Andrea Jaeger who as a kid was so competitive that she played Monopoly by herself and got mad if her left hand beat her right: who when she joined the tour as a 14-year-old phenom dug in at the baseline and almost strangled herself in her flying Rapunzel hair as she tracked down every ball; who during a changeover once muttered to Evert Lloyd, "You cheat"—and then went on to win the match? "She's lost the old ferocious way of playing," said Roland last month. "She's been up there so long, and she doesn't think she can get any higher. She's just a little tired of hanging on to Number Three."

Since Roland said that, Andrea, who hasn't won a tournament in more than a year, has dropped first to No. 4 in the rankings and then, as of last week, to No. 7. The only reason she hasn't fallen farther is that, as Evert Lloyd says, she's so "devastatingly talented." Among the women, only Martina Navratilova is a better natural athlete. Hence, even when Jaeger plays indifferently, she can beat most players and often keep the score respectable with the others.

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