Though she worked hard, Lori started playing with less confidence. New names were challenging her. Jaeger was making phenomenal progress. "It always seemed people were looking at me," says Lori. " 'Oh, there's Lori Kosten.' Always judging you, watching you. I'd go to tournaments and I'd hope for rain. Here I was, seeded No. 1, and I couldn't stand the thought of playing."
A significant turn in Lori's career came at the U.S. Open when she was 13. Her father had brought her there to watch the matches as a reward for a fine summer. He believed, with good reason, that his daughter could hold her own with 60% of the women in the tournament. He, Lori, Marilyn and Jaeger were walking out of the stadium after a match when Bollettieri came up to them and said he was opening a tennis academy in Florida. Would Lori come? She could live in his house. Two other top juniors, Anne White and Jimmy Arias, would be among the students.
"Please let me go," Lori said to her father. "Please, please, please."
It sounded great. Tennis every day, against the country's best, with expert instruction, in Florida no less. The Kostens said yes. At the time Buford was working with Lori on her strokes. Herb provided moral and tactical support. Whenever Lori played, she knew where daddy was standing. By enrolling at Bollettieri's, Lori was losing the two most important influences in her life.
Now everyone agrees that going to Florida was a mistake. Says Buford, "It bothered me because I knew it would end up with her either making it, or it would kill her." Adds Herb, "It was wrong because, especially in women's tennis, all the ones who make it have a close relationship with someone. Lori wound up missing that. There's no question I let her make too many decisions when she was young, but that doesn't mean I was wrong. That's how I am with everybody in my family." While Herb is talking he's driving his wife's white Eldorado. Beside him Marilyn sits rigidly, staring straight ahead. Back when Lori was struggling with tennis, Marilyn had decisions to make about her own life.
Herb and Marilyn are opposites in almost every way, from looks to temperament. He is a patient, low-key, everyday kind of guy. She's petrified by hospitals, doctors, failing and messy confrontations. Marilyn has a youthful figure. Herb's hair is thinning, and his athlete's body has swelled. Marilyn wears fashionable clothes and diets fastidiously. Herb is a walking rummage sale.
As the girls became more and more involved in tennis, so did Herb. He played. He worked with the state tennis association. He became an umpire. (Herb called the Jimmy Connors-Guillermo Vilas semifinal match at this year's U.S. Open.) He helped coach his daughters. "Herb's an athlete, and athletes understand other athletes," says Marilyn. "He would say to me, 'Just take care of Lori's clothes and her hair, and I'll take care of the rest.' That's hard, mentally, to be left out. It was: 'Don't get in the way.' My feelings were hurt. I wanted so much to help. But they were athletes. Just keep her pretty, they said." Marilyn reacted by staying away when Lori played. "The fences around the court started to look like prison walls to me," she says.
At the Sugar Bowl tournament in 1975, while Lori played in the finals, Marilyn drove her car around the park adjacent to the courts, returning occasionally to ask Herb the score. She could do so without getting out of the car. Finally, he became exasperated. "Listen, either stay or leave," he said. Marilyn thought for a moment and then stepped on the gas. The car rammed into the fence alongside Lori's court. Marilyn says she thought the car was in reverse.
At one tournament Marilyn saw a father smash his son's head against a tree after the boy lost. She watched as parents fought. She saw children cheat. It never made sense. "I thought it was degrading," Marilyn says. "Everybody was concerned about Lori. She was running the show. No one was saying, 'What about Marilyn?' I was proud to be Lori's mother, but people thought I was a nobody. I said, 'I'm not a tennis mother. And I'm not going to do what I'm supposed to do.' "
Marilyn started taking art classes. She began talking about "honesty," a marriage alarm signal if ever there was one. She discovered the passionate films of the Italian director, Lina Wertmuller. Sports bored her, she told friends. She fantasized about running away to Greenwich Village. Instead, she designed a tennis dress. At a tournament she showed it to Tracy Austin, who loved it. Marilyn started a company, Little Miss Tennis, and designed its dresses. When Austin burst onto the national scene, she wore Marilyn's dresses. The company took off. Marilyn had her own business. She was a person, too.