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Rolling Onto A New Track
Sarah Pileggi
December 21, 1981
Tracy Austin has paid a steep price to reach the top in women's tennis. Now, at 19, she is having fewer ups and downs
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December 21, 1981

Rolling Onto A New Track

Tracy Austin has paid a steep price to reach the top in women's tennis. Now, at 19, she is having fewer ups and downs

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She also says she's having more fun, on and off the court, than ever. She has a boyfriend now, a tall, good-looking blond USC tennis player named Matt Anger, whom she met at Wimbledon this year, and she is doing outrageously normal things like double-dating and going to Magic Mountain, the amusement park north of L.A. "Matt's good for me because he plays tennis and has the same life-style," says Austin. "Some guys wouldn't understand."

By the time Evert Lloyd was 19 she had been through a very public and, in the end, unhappy love affair with Jimmy Connors. Austin is growing up more slowly than that, but she is changing, though she resists it just as stubbornly as she has resisted change all her life. "I never like complete change," says Austin. "If anything has to change, I like it to be gradual." Or not at all: She still uses the same size racket grip (4⅜") that she did when she was nine. Picture her waiting to return service. She smooths her bangs on the right, smooths them on the left, touches the sweatband on her right wrist to her right forehead and then to her left forehead. She adjusts her necklace, tugs at her dress, blows on her right hand, tugs at her socks, takes three quick steps backward and, finally, jumps in place several times. Then and only then is she ready to hit the ball. That's the way it has always been, the way it always will be. Austin once told Carillo that at exactly 7:30 every morning she's home, she goes to the freezer in the garage and takes one, just one, spoonful of ice cream. Vanilla.

Says Kleppinger, only half jokingly, "Those of us who are in the business of molding and shaping Tracy's opinions have the capability of stonewalling over long periods—stalling until the time is right for Tracy to make the decision." Kleppinger has engineered some of the important changes in Austin's life—her switch from a Wilson to a Spaulding racket and from Converse to Pony shoes, for instance—all in Tracy's financial best interests, but none of them came quickly or easily. Thanks to the friendly persuasion of Kleppinger and others, Austin also has contracts with Canon cameras and Gunze, a Japanese textile firm that will produce a line of Tracy Austin tennis wear. These endorsements bring her annual off-court income to $1.5 million, to go with the half million dollars or so she can expect to earn playing.

Evert Lloyd, on whom Austin has modeled her game and to a certain degree her life, has said that the next important step for Tracy is to move toward independence, by which Chris means learning to live without the constant ministrations of her mother. Jeanne has been at the center of her daughter's peripatetic existence for so long that no one in or out of Tracy's entourage quite knows who or what will fill the void, or whether it can be filled, when the time comes for Jeanne to remain at home. "On the one hand tennis mothers are total slaves, and on the other they are the bottom line," says Peter Bodo, a contributing editor at Tennis magazine. "When you're up against the wall, whom do you turn to? But the role fosters a kind of contempt in the children. I've seen Tracy talk to her mother the way I wouldn't talk to a servant, but I've also seen real need and tenderness."

Says Kleppinger, "I think Jeanne knows that at some point her duties will become less necessary. I went to Atlanta with Tracy this year, and I saw that Tracy can handle the functional things all by herself."

"You can always learn to pack your own suitcase," says big sister Pam, "and Tracy will someday. She'll forget her socks and rackets a couple of times, but she'll learn. As for Mom, I think lately she's become more interested in the rest of us. She's coming back to reality. Before, I'd tell her something that I was doing and she'd say, 'That's good. Well, Tracy has to play so and so.' "

Evert Lloyd's mother, Colette, traveled with her daughter until she was 20, and Evert Lloyd has often spoken about how hard it is to be alone on the tour. For Austin it may even be harder. As the youngest of five children, she was even more sheltered than Evert Lloyd, the eldest of four. But in overcoming her difficulties this year, Austin has revealed a reservoir of strength that cannot entirely be explained by "relentless determination" or "tenacity of purpose." There is a new dimension to her, perhaps the one that is necessary to make a great champion out of a pampered prodigy.

Lately Austin has displayed signs that she may be getting ready to leave her cocoon—gradually, of course. Two weeks ago, at the Australian Open in Melbourne, she lost a close quarterfinal match to Shriver. Typically, after such a defeat, Austin would retire to collect herself and then, 15 or 20 minutes later, reappear for the postmatch press conference. She then would immediately return to her hotel with Jeanne. But on this day, to the enormous surprise of the locker-room sorority, half an hour after losing, she was putting on the practice green of the Kooyong Club with Rosie Casals and Connie Spooner, the WTA trainer. Perhaps Austin has learned that when you're rich and famous and pretty and talented, life has more to offer than room service.

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