It's a typical teen-ager's room, a refuge as much as anything else. In the satisfying, comforting clutter are a pushbutton phone, a stack of 45s, a Mickey Mouse wall clock and a poster promising love. Lori Kosten is sitting on her bed, sifting absentmindedly through crimped photographs and yellowed newspaper clippings, evidence that she was special. She's playing The Way We Were on her stereo. She has tears in her eyes. If she had it to do all over again, would she? Could she?
Five years ago, at age 12, Lori told her hometown newspaper in Memphis, "I want to be like Chris Evert, or maybe better." Now, lying on the bed in front of her is a poem she has written, I Had This Dream:
The dream didn't come true....
So I threw away all the fame,
All that's left is memories of the past....
Once I was the big shot, I was so hot,
But now it's no longer to be.
Trying to explain what happened to Lori, tennis folks say, "She had too much too soon." Eventually, her precociousness played havoc with her. She contemplated suicide. Her health deteriorated. Life became chaotic. Three years ago Lori said, "Tennis is everything. I wouldn't want to live without tennis." A year later she walked away from the game.
Lori didn't quit tennis because she wasn't improving, but because others were getting better faster. She quit because she made one too many trips to hospital emergency rooms, because she lay awake one night too many, worrying, because she finally listened to herself. "It used to make me mad that no one would ever say the word 'quit,' " says Lori. "Everyone just kept putting on more and more pressure to be better. No one would say it. They were so gung-ho about my being a winner."
Even now, a lot of people in tennis can't believe she could give up the sport. In 1981, after Zina Garrison won the Wimbledon junior championship she said to Lori, "I still wonder if I could get a game off of you."
Lori was good. At seven she was a phenom. By eight she had won seven trophies. In an early tournament she lost a set and her opponent's father screamed, "Ten thousand dollars worth of lessons finally paid off." At 12 she was ranked No. 2 in the U.S. in her age division. At 14 her picture was in Life magazine. She went out with Leif Garrett, the young Hollywood star. "I woke up to a world of all these super things happening," she says. "Headlines, traveling from state to state, missing school, meeting people, winning, being a fighter, wanting things and never being satisfied. Almost from the beginning of my life I was a star. Then when it ended, when I couldn't take it anymore, I said, 'I'm sick of fighting. I want to live.' "
Often in the early rounds of junior tournaments, the kids score their own matches, and the winner returns the balls and reports the outcome. Lori was always eager to return the balls.
"Kosten 6-0, 6-0."