The formula has the added advantage of eliminating adversity. Until a year ago Austin had never dealt with adversity because she had never recognized its existence. If you believed her press clippings, the only untoward event in her short but charmed life happened 10 years ago when her coach slipped and fell on her while they were ice-skating, breaking her leg.
While tennis fans have resisted Austin, other players, especially those who were on the pro circuit when she arrived, have resented her for several reasons, one being that everything always has seemed to go so smoothly for her. At age nine Austin told her mother that she intended to be No. 1, and by 17 she was. On top of that, she needed only 20 months on the tour to win a million dollars.
Austin may well have been able to change the attitude of her peers if she had cared to try. But she was familiar enough with jealousy not to let that attitude bother her. It was the price one paid for success, and Austin had been piling up successes over people older than herself for better than 10 years. Besides, she is nothing if not pragmatic: If you let something get you down, your tennis might be affected.
But the biggest barrier to Austin's gaining acceptance on the tour has been her isolation. Always accompanied by her mother, sometimes by a coach, often by Sara Kleppinger, the 30-year-old lawyer in the Dell firm who handles Tracy's day-to-day affairs, Austin has been surrounded by adults and therefore cut off from the normal give-and-take of the women's circuit. She rarely practiced with other players; after her first two years on the tour, she stopped playing doubles because it too often kept her up late; at times she didn't even change clothes in the tournament locker rooms after matches, returning instead with her mother to their hotel room. Consequently, the players have had little opportunity to get to know Austin. In the beginning, the fact that she was a 14-year-old among 20-year-olds and a bit shy only deepened the gulf. However, while Tracy's isolation has hindered her acceptance by the locker-room sorority, it probably has helped her on the court. It's easier, after all, to crush a stranger than a friend.
"You have to keep distance to maintain a competitive edge," says Kleppinger. "I think Tracy will have a group of friends as more players her age come on the circuit. Except for Shriver, with whom there isn't a natural closeness, there was no one else for a long time."
"It's hard to be close friends with people on the tour," says Austin. "I feel like I get along with all the girls on the circuit, but some are better friends than others. They're mostly the young ones."
The beginning of the end of Austin's carefree, sheltered existence occurred a year ago October when she felt a pain deep in her right buttock. That signaled the start of a 10-month ordeal for which she was wholly unprepared. The malady, which was ultimately diagnosed as sciatica, grew steadily more painful until, in January of this year, she had to quit playing altogether.
For the next two months, she stayed at home in Rolling Hills, Calif., but her recovery was agonizingly slow. In March, plagued by frustration and boredom, she flew to New York and moved in with Dick and Madeline Zausner, older friends who live on Long Island. There she came under the care of Dr. Irving Glick, an orthopedist who also is physician-in-residence for the U.S. Open. "The amount of muscle weakness was striking, as it would be in any athlete who had been out of competition for three months," says Glick. She had trouble raising her leg against one finger's pressure." At 18, Austin had learned for the first time that life does not always go according to plan.
Glick says taking care of Austin became a "religion" for him, the Zausners and the staff of the Port Washington (N.Y.) Tennis Academy, where she gingerly worked herself back into shape. At first she could tolerate only seven minutes a day of returning balls hit directly to her. Eventually she built up to two two-hour sessions a day, but the effort it took was greater than any she had ever had to make.
Recently Austin was relaxing in Rolling Hills between tournaments in Germany and Japan. She has grown markedly prettier in the past year. Her face with its deep-set blue eyes, a face that used to look oddly old at times, now is in harmony with the rest of her. This day her thick wavy blonde hair was pinned carefully into a fin de siècle bun from which small curls fetchingly escaped. Though she says she hasn't lost more than a pound or two, she appears slimmer, and her high-heeled sandals added inches to her height, which is 5'4" in sneakers.