Associate writer Barry McDermott remembers the first time he saw Andrea Jaeger, at the junior Orange Bowl tournament in 1978. She was 13—all of 80 pounds, barely 5 feet tall—and was tearing up the 18-and-under field while her mother sat, says McDermott, "like Madame Defarge knitting on the sidelines as her daughter lopped off the heads." Not long after that he wrote a story about her (SI July 9, 1979). "A fantastic tennis player," he says today, "but she was just a kid."
For this week's article on Jaeger (page 34), he spent eight days with her and her parents exploring why she, once the relentless competitor, has recently been bafflingly losing matches she should win. "I came away sympathetic to her situation," says McDermott. "She's still a little kid, but she lives in an adult world. Her perceptions of herself and the world's perceptions of her are completely different."
One of McDermott's distinctions as a writer is his ability to penetrate beyond the world's perceptions. In 1980 he was assigned to profile Darryl Dawkins, the man-child, then 18, who had bypassed college to sign with the 76ers. The world knew Dawkins as an oddball with an exotic imagination that encompassed, among other things, the imaginary planet Lovetron. McDermott had a hard time bringing Dawkins to earth, but when he did he found an introspective man, indeed, a poet of sorts whose flair for the bizarre was simply an emotional shield. In 1981 McDermott unearthed the real Lee Trevino behind the flip one-liners and wrote about Lori Kosten, the tennis prodigy who gave the game up. The year after that, he delved beneath the glamourous image of Jan Stephenson and found a vulnerable, complex person.
Says tennis editor Bill Colson, "Barry has a knack for ferreting out revealing anecdotes and quotes from his subjects. That takes hard work and a special knack for putting people at ease."
"I know when I begin a story," McDermott says, "that at first people are going to tell me what they want me to hear. My job is to get them to tell me what they truly feel."
McDermott's perception of his own role in life has changed markedly since he and his teen-age buddies in the town of Fort Wright, Ky. were breaking into Coke machines, drag racing on highways and—like the Pharaohs in American Graffiti—harassing the cops. "My name never got in the papers," he says, "but it was close. We were the bad kids, rebelling like James Dean. Only we were too stupid to know who James Dean was. The strange thing is, most of those guys are now successful lawyers and businessmen." And his own Wild One act, he says, was actually the false bravado of a shy person, which he contends he still is.
There are no easy answers, he says, to Jaeger's problems. "What's happening," says McDermott, "is that she has traded at least part of her childhood for tennis, and now she's wondering if she made a good deal. Lori Kosten quit tennis because she didn't make it. Andrea may decide to quit because she did."
McDERMOTT IN 1978 WITH TENNIS-STAR-TO-BE JAEGER