Skip to main content
Original Issue

Oh, Were It Only The Racket

After a string of spiritless losses, the burning question in tennis is: What's wrong with Andrea Jaeger?

Andrea Jaeger has developed an odd and troubling deficiency in her tennis game. Four years after turning pro, she no longer seems to care whether she wins or loses. Though she's only 18, the steel has disappeared from her eyes, and her fight and spunk, once the cornerstones of her game, have been replaced by a disturbing proclivity for going through the motions on the court. She fades in and out of matches like a station on a car radio with no antenna. To wit:

•September 1982, New York City: Toward the end of a 6-1, 6-2 loss to Chris Evert Lloyd at the U.S. Open, Jaeger appears to give up. In his summation of the match, CBS commentator and former Wimbledon and U.S. champion Tony Trabert says, "I'm terribly disappointed in the effort of Andrea Jaeger.... I just don't feel she really had her heart and soul in the semifinal of the U.S. Open. I just don't understand that kind of thing. She sort of was in a hurry to get it over."

•January 1983, Houston: Jaeger loses 6-1, 6-3 to Zina Garrison in the local Virginia Slims tournament. Instead of playing her patient baseline game, Jaeger charges the net wildly. Many of her normally pinpoint ground strokes fly six and seven feet beyond the baseline. Afterward Garrison says, "On certain shots Andrea just stuck her racket out there like she was giving me the points." Jaeger says that menstrual cramps hampered her running.

•March 1983, New York: Jaeger drops the final 16 points in a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 Virginia Slims Championships loss to Billie Jean King. In the last game Jaeger lackadaisically double-faults three times to fall behind 0-40. King then hits a drop shot that's much too deep. Jaeger makes little effort to reach it, and the match is over. She says she had a foot injury.

•November 1983, Tokyo: Jaeger falls 6-2, 6-2 in the Lions Cup to Andrea Temesvari in what one tour insider describes as a "horrible and disgusting" performance. Jaeger says she had a cold.

•January 1984, Washington: Jaeger loses 6-0, 6-1 to Lisa Bonder in the local Slims tournament. Jaeger sails ball after ball well beyond the court and barely moves for Bonder's shots. Once, after two Jaeger shots in a row land six feet out, the crowd of 3,800 boos and hisses. In the postmatch press conference Jaeger again says she has been suffering from menstrual cramps. Later, several officials on the women's tour talk to her about her performance. "I thought we had it all worked out," says Lee Jackson, referee for the Women's Tennis Association.

•February 1984, Houston: Despite playing listlessly, Jaeger leads Wendy Turnbull 5-4 in the first set of a Slims tournament match. During the changeover, promoter George Liddy comes onto the court and angrily tells Jaeger, "If you don't feel like trying, then get off the court." Jaeger wins the next game and the set, but then appears to lose all interest in the match. She doesn't even sit during changeovers. Instead, she marches directly to the other side of the court, where she stands defiantly, waiting with one hand on her hip and bouncing a ball with her racket. She quickly loses the next two sets 6-2, 6-2. Jaeger skips the press conference, but sends word through a tour official that she "isn't feeling well."

•February 1984, New York: In a 6-2, 7-6 Slims Championships loss to Kathy Horvath, Jaeger alternates belting winners and spraying balls all over Madison Square Garden. Once again, she makes only halfhearted attempts to reach shots that aren't hit within easy reach. At one point she stops, looks around and mutters to herself, "Why is everybody always watching me?" A few days later her father, Roland, who's also her coach, says, "Her head isn't in it right now. I hope it's a passing phase."

Can this be the same Andrea Jaeger who as a kid was so competitive that she played Monopoly by herself and got mad if her left hand beat her right: who when she joined the tour as a 14-year-old phenom dug in at the baseline and almost strangled herself in her flying Rapunzel hair as she tracked down every ball; who during a changeover once muttered to Evert Lloyd, "You cheat"—and then went on to win the match? "She's lost the old ferocious way of playing," said Roland last month. "She's been up there so long, and she doesn't think she can get any higher. She's just a little tired of hanging on to Number Three."

Since Roland said that, Andrea, who hasn't won a tournament in more than a year, has dropped first to No. 4 in the rankings and then, as of last week, to No. 7. The only reason she hasn't fallen farther is that, as Evert Lloyd says, she's so "devastatingly talented." Among the women, only Martina Navratilova is a better natural athlete. Hence, even when Jaeger plays indifferently, she can beat most players and often keep the score respectable with the others.

Jaeger seems unconcerned that she's not using her talent. "I'm not disappointed in myself for not winning," she says. "I don't lose any sleep over it. I'm not the type of person who wants to be remembered in history books. I just want to play, and when I'm done, that's it. Other people, they're trying to prove something to someone else. If you want to prove something, prove it to yourself. That way, nobody else ever has to know."

Jaeger maintains that for the last year or so she has been plagued with niggling injuries to her right shoulder, pelvis and legs and that the WTA has pressured her to play despite these ailments. "No one's going to tell me when to play anymore," says Jaeger. For their part, representatives of the WTA and Virginia Slims, which sponsors the women's tour, put the best face on Jaeger's slipshod performances. They point out that she does whatever they ask in the way of promoting their events. They also insist that "tanking is subjective." Hogwash, say the tournament officials who have been burned by Jaeger. "We all expect players to give 100 percent," says one. "It's frustrating when Andrea gives less. She's hurting women's tennis, no question about it. She needs to either take a break or accept her responsibility."

In fact, early last year Jaeger considered dropping off the circuit and going to college, maybe to Stanford, where her older sister is a senior. Then, in August, the WTA fined Jaeger for "unprofessional conduct" after she allegedly shoved a doubles opponent against a locker-room wall. Since then, the main topic of conversation on the tour—other than Navratilova's domination of it—has been what's wrong with Jaeger. Unquestionably, her behavior, off the court as well as on, has at times been unsettling.

For instance, at the draw for this year's Slims Championships Evert Lloyd wandered over to Jaeger and said, "How's it going. Andrea?" Jaeger turned and said to a friend. "If Chris says 'How's it going' one more time, I think I'm going to barf." Jaeger has a hit list, which she keeps track of on her home computer, of the players she thinks have wronged her. First on the list isn't Evert Lloyd but Tracy Austin. Her transgression? It seems that while she and Jaeger were riding in a tournament station wagon in Chicago last year. Jaeger was listening to a song on the car radio, and Austin asked the driver to turn it off.

Then there was the incident in November at the World Mixed Doubles Championships in Houston, where Jaeger teamed with Roscoe Tanner. While they were warming up for their quarterfinal match against Turnbull and John Lloyd, a giggling Jaeger said to Tanner, "Gee. I think I wore the wrong bra tonight." Tanner cracked up, and throughout the match he made jokes, calling out. "Hey Andrea, how's everything holding together over there?" After the match, which Jaeger and Tanner won, Lloyd told the press, "I think Andrea intimidated Wendy." He was talking about the clowning around. When Jaeger heard the quote, she stormed into the Lloyds' hotel room and asked John if he'd really accused her of intimidating Turnbull. "That's the way I saw it," answered John.

"I don't believe that," said Jaeger, turning to Chris, with whom she has had an off-again, on-again friendship. "Do you think that was right, Chris?"

Chris shrugged her shoulders. "It sort of looked that way to me," she said.

Jaeger let out a yelp and smashed her racket against the wall. "You people are amazing," she said. "You can get somebody else to play your mixed doubles finals." She then fled the room.

Turnbull had been Jaeger's mentor on the tour during her early years as a pro. Now, in Houston, it appeared to Jaeger that the Lloyds were conspiring to make her look bad to Turnbull. The next day Jaeger followed Turnbull and Slims consultant Ana Leaird when they drove to the Houston airport, some 45 minutes from the tournament hotel. "I got right behind them," she recalls. "I just stared at them. They knew I was there. I would get off an exit ramp and then get right back on the expressway, right behind them. When I got to the airport, I said to Wendy, 'I wasn't trying to intimidate you. I'd never do something like that.' " Jaeger did play the finals, which she and Tanner lost to Jimmy Connors and Evert Lloyd.

What makes Jaeger's behavior especially bewildering is that away from tennis she's usually the carefree teen-ager, full of fun, with a hint of freckles, dimples and a twinkle in her eye. In her family's Largo, Fla. house, which is on the grounds of the Bardmoor Country Club, she runs about, acting as if she were a careening auto, making squealing tire sounds as she hurtles from the kitchen into the hallway. Outside, she zooms around in her golf cart, which is equipped with an AM-FM stereo cassette player. When she cuts across the Bardmoor golf course with the volume turned up full blast, you can hear her coming from about three fairways away.

Her favorite accessories are shades and a Walkman, and her vocabulary is filled with Valleyspeak phrases like "bummer city," "gross" and "totally." She loves to play soccer and Nerf football, and she's forever conducting informal clinics for ball girls and ball boys. At a tournament on Marco Island in February, some kids about 10 to 12 years old were making a commotion under the stands while playing a raucous game of tag. An official grabbed one and began lecturing him. "But—" the little boy kept saying. "But—" Just then Jaeger came tearing around a corner and ran right into the official, and the boy blurted out, "But we're playing with Andrea Jaeger!"

Jaeger also genuinely cares about people. When she's at home, two or three times a week she makes the hour-long drive to Tampa to work with runaway children, and after she lost to Horvath in New York, she spent a day at suburban White Plains High participating in a suicide-prevention program for teen-agers. In fact, she has made so many trips to the school that one administrator there calls her an "honorary student." She's renowned on the circuit for giving thoughtful little presents to players and tour officials and for remembering other people's anniversaries. It took her days to wrap her gifts for Valentine's Day, and when Nancy Lieberman, Navratilova's companion, won the Women Superstars in February, Jaeger sent her a Strip-A-Gram. Last Christmas, Jaeger was shopping at a mall near her home when she encountered a teen-age girl who'd had her purse stolen and was obviously devastated. Jaeger insisted that the victim accept $50.

"You made my Christmas," the girl said.

"No," said Jaeger, "you made my Christmas."

"I like kids because they never look at you for your money, or what you do," says Jaeger. "They just take you for what you are."

To begin to understand Jaeger, one first must understand her family, especially Roland. Outwardly, father and daughter don't appear to be close, but don't be misled. Though they may sharply and openly criticize each other, they're fiercely loyal to one another. On the circuit, whenever people whisper the latest story about Andrea, even one that's harmless, they always add, "Don't tell Roland. He'll kill me!"

The Jaegers' house has vaulted ceilings and five bedrooms. Next door is a two-acre lot that the Jaegers also own. Out back is a swimming pool, two Mercedes and a Bradley GT, a kit car that Andrea bought two weeks ago. The house is protected by a state-of-the-art alarm system and by Striker, the family Doberman. On a coffeepot in the kitchen is a sticker that reads BUY AMERICAN. Roland and his wife, Use, were born in Germany. They're proud to be Americans, and proud to be Jaegers.

Over the last decade Roland has pushed, prodded, ordered and intimidated Andrea to greatness. He has been, in succession, a soccer player, boxer, bricklayer and bar operator. Back in Lincolnshire, Ill., where the Jaegers lived before moving to Florida in 1982, he held down two jobs to make ends meet. Even today, while living on Easy Street, he teaches tennis and does all his own yard work. He still bugs Andrea about her tennis, but he never asks more of her than he does of himself. "Maybe I've pushed her too hard," he says. "Not pushed too hard in tennis, but pushed too hard to win. There has to be a driving force behind everybody."

Roland tells tennis parents, "Your child plays for himself last. First he plays for you, then for his coach, then for himself." Roland is nothing if not blunt. Recently, the mother of Bonnie Gadusek, the 12th-ranked woman, asked him if he could recommend a doctor who might be able to successfully treat Bonnie's sore knee. Roland blurted out. "Her knee is bad because she hits her backhand wrong." Recalling the incident, he almost smacks himself in the face. "I could have bit my tongue," he says in amazement. "I wish I hadn't said it. Now she hits her backhand great."

Roland is saving a bottle of 1970 Ch√¢teau Lafite Rothschild to open when Andrea wins Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. And make no mistake, he believes she can win them. Listening to him, though, one would think she hasn't got a prayer. "I don't think she can do it" is his stock answer to any question about her potential. Says Roland, "That reverse psychology goes a long way."

Roland almost never compliments Andrea on her tennis. Before losing to Turnbull in Houston this year, Andrea routed her first two opponents, Catherine Tanvier and Pam Casale, losing only two games all told. After she beat Casale, the WTA's Jackson approached Roland as he waited for Andrea outside the dressing room. "She played great tonight," said Jackson. "Tell her that, Roland. Please tell her that. Tomorrow tell her what she did wrong, but tonight tell her she played great."

Roland shook his head. "Lee." he said, "it's like the first grade. You finish that grade, then you got to go on."

Andrea walked up. "You should have taken the net more," said Roland. "Why don't you do it? When you get that short ball...."

Four weeks earlier, in Washington, Bonder and Jaeger had adjoining hotel rooms. Roland was staying down the hall. After Andrea lost to Bonder, they returned to the hotel together. When Andrea got to her room, her phone was ringing. It was Roland, excoriating her for her performance, saying she had disgraced herself and ruined her career. Andrea kept hanging up on him, and Roland repeatedly called back. Finally, she slammed down the receiver so hard that she broke the phone. A short time later Roland was outside her room, pushing notes under the door.

Says one player, "Her father is driving her nuts. He never lets up, and she's sick of it. She told me she's going to quit when her [endorsement] contracts are up."

Says former Australian Davis Cupper Owen Davidson, who helped coach Jaeger in 1980-81, "What she's going through now doesn't surprise me at all. There are real problems there. I got out when I realized the father wasn't playing with a full deck."

After Washington, Andrea and Roland went through a sorting-out period, not unlike those that, Andrea maintains, other parents and children go through when the kids feel ready to make their own decisions. Andrea says that Hana Mandlikova was partly responsible for restoring the close relationship between her and her father. She and Mandlikova had a talk on the beach during the Marco Island tournament. "You find out you can't trust people," Mandlikova told her. "Your parents always have been with you and helped you." That night, Andrea called Roland, who was at home, and asked him to join her at the tournament.

"My dad and I are so much alike, it's a joke," says Andrea. "We're both hot-tempered. We're both stubborn. We like the same things—soccer, animals, little things like frozen slushes. I was always his little boy. When my mother got on me about wearing pants, he would say, 'She looks all right.' Sometimes he gets a little much, but now I'm learning that he always did a lot of those things because he cared about me and wanted me to have a better life than he had. He knows he can't push me. There's only so far that you can do something with me. But he's always right—at least about tennis."

Andrea doesn't seem to mind that her father doesn't show affection. "If he did, I wouldn't believe him anyway," she says. "It's no big deal when you grow up that way. Some kids, their parents are always praising them, and then they go out in the real world and they're stuck. I mean, I'll never give just anybody a hug. That's ridiculous. I only hug people I care about."

Andrea is closest to her sister, Susy. Andrea wears Susy's college class ring, and Susy wears Andrea's high school ring. Susy, who was a top-ranked junior player but gave up serious competition in 1982, is engaged to Scott Davis, a rising young player on the men's circuit. She has always been warmer and more extroverted than Andrea, more like their mother than their father. She and Andrea talk on the telephone frequently, and Susy often closes the conversations by saying, "I love you." Andrea never answers in kind. "It's hard for me," she says.

After Marco Island, where Jaeger played only doubles, came the Houston tournament. She claims she had an excellent chance of beating Turnbull there until Liddy butted in. "It's hard for me to play Wendy anyway," she says. "I have so much respect for her. There was a time, if she said something was blue, and it really was red, I'd probably have said it was blue. When the guy came down and said that to me, I coudn't believe it. Here it was 5-4 in the first set and he says I'm tanking! I went out and served so hard in the next game that I think I hit, like, three winners. Then I looked over at him and he was nodding his head and smiling, like, 'That's the way to do it.' The rest of the match I wouldn't sit down during changeovers because I didn't know who was going to come up and say something." As she left the court, Jaeger told a WTA official, "That's it. You won't see me for five weeks."

Says Liddy, "She's supposed to have problems. Well, I have problems, too. I know when someone isn't giving her best. She did the same thing here last year [against Garrison]. She was playing as if she had to catch a train."

During her layoff Jaeger decided that the Turnbull match was a positive experience. "I could have hung up my rackets after that," she said. "But getting mad showed me that I was still into tennis. That's the way I've always been. When I get upset and say I'm fed up, I always come back strong and play well." Trouble is, this time she didn't, as her subsequent listless performance in New York against Horvath showed.

Lately Use has begun to challenge Roland's hypercritical approach to Andrea's tennis. At dinner recently, when he belittled Andrea's efforts against Navratilova in last year's Wimbledon final, Use cut in and said, "That's sick. You never give her any credit. Do you know how hard it is to get to a Wimbledon final?" Roland looked chastened. Use, however, is also quick to point out that Andrea would never have become a great player without Roland. "Andrea had a lot of potential," she says, "but she is because of him. He's willing to give 200 percent, but he wants 100 percent back."

Harry Hopman, the legendary coach of Australia's great Davis Cup teams in the 1950s and '60s, has a tennis camp in Largo where Jaeger practices when she's home. Hopman believes that her slump is an aberration, though a predictable one, and that she simply needs to put her nose to the grindstone again. "We had some boy wonders, and they went through stages," he says. "Kenny Rosewall, for one. He was an only child, heavily protected and coddled by his parents. Lew Hoad was catching up to him. No one knew what to do. Andrea's had a few losses, and people say she's 'touched.' She doesn't need psychiatric help. She just needs to put a bit more concentration into her practice." Hopman's only complaint is that during workouts. Yeggs, as he calls her, is too cavalier. An example: She sometimes talks her practice partners into lefthanded matches.

Other tour insiders maintain that Jaeger is plain burned out, that she has grown sick of the traveling and the spotlight. Many players have gone through similar experiences. In 1977, when Evert Lloyd was 22 and at the top, she took a hard look at herself. Then she went home for four months and closed the door on tennis. "The glamour was gone," she said later. "I had squeezed all the enthusiasm and eagerness out of myself. No amount of money excited me."

To date, Jaeger hasn't acknowledged that she's unhappy with tennis or that she has performed any way but honorably on the court. When she doesn't claim a physical ailment, she dismisses her spiritless efforts by saying that her opponent simply played too well. In her own defense, she likes to compare herself with John McEnroe, who, she says, like her has long been misunderstood. "People are trying to change me, and I don't like that," she adds. "I don't want to change. They say I don't like myself. They don't even know me. They think they do, but they don't. I can have my shades on and be looking right at them, and I'm cracking up inside and they don't even know what I'm thinking. Emotionally, it runs me down to always have to defend myself. People say I missed my childhood. I'm still having my childhood. I'm only 18. People say I should get dressed up and go out. Then I do, and they say I stay out too late. I mean, I get criticized no matter what I do. How can I win?

"If you're different, they think there's something wrong with you. They call my management group to say that they're worried about me, that they think something is wrong with me. They see me by myself with my Walkman, and they think I'm mentally disturbed and I want to quit tennis. I know they're saying I'm crazy, that I don't get along with my dad, that I'm ill or injured all the time, that I have to call everybody at night because I'm so lonely. And then they say I'm involved with a woman. I heard I was supposed to be attracted to Wendy. I'm not gay. I like guys. I just don't date many right now. I get into everything later than other kids. I'm not even into makeup or pretty clothes yet. When I am, then maybe I'll get interested in guys."

Jaeger says she has no plans to quit tennis. Maybe, in three years or so, she'll think about it. "When I'm 21, I could see making a 'fun' decision like that," she says. "Really, I don't think I'll be smart enough to do it because I don't have anything to fall back on."

What she would like to be is a CIA agent. No kidding. In fact, during the Washington tournament she visited Victor Marchetti, a former spook and the author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. Jaeger asked him what she would have to do to join the agency. She has always been intrigued by spy stuff. "Wouldn't it be something if I had been an agent for two years already, and nobody knew it?" she says.

Lately, Jaeger has been disguising her voice when she answers the phone. "Haa-llooo," she says, affecting a vaguely European accent. She's worried that the phones at her home are bugged, and she's thinking of getting a tape recorder to carry with her. "That way I can tape conversations," she says. "Then if anybody says I said something, I can have proof whether I did or not."

Jaeger's closest friends don't find her eccentricities puzzling. "In many ways she's 40 years old, and in many ways she's 12," says WTA public relations director Peggy Gossett Lewis. "Sometimes she's a little nutty, but her behavior is consistent with her age and her position in the world. She's playing with a full deck, plus two jokers. All the intrigue and spy stuff are the same things we all went through as kids—imagining we were Amelia Earhart, Sherlock Holmes. That's what she's doing. She couldn't do it when she was 14 because she was too busy being in the Top 20 in the world."

It's instructive to note that Jaeger is enamored of the hit song Somebody's Watching Me: "All I want is to be left alone, in my average home.... I always feel like somebody's watching me. And I have no privacy.... Tell me, is it just a dream?"

Can't get no privacy. More than anything else, a longing for a normal teenage existence may have precipitated Jaeger's inexcusable performances on the court. She may not be as weary of tennis as she is of the women's tour, which is rife with cliques, jealousy and envy. At times the circuit resembles the U.N., with the superpowers vying to line up nonaligned nations and diplomatic relations being conducted through notes between feuding parties. "It's all so petty," says Jaeger. "The players are too worried about what's going on and what's being said. They always want to get the upper hand on you by saying things behind your back." The dichotomy between pro tennis and the real world, between making millions traveling around the globe and playing tag with some kids, has become all too real for Jaeger. Everything gets stale and old, and even child tennis stars grow up to ask, "Is that all there is?"


When the promoter lit into her in Houston, Jaeger sulked, then quickly lost two sets.


Her father, says Andrea, rarely extols her play.


Roland may push Andrea on the court, but she's in the driver's seat in her kit car and her golf cart equipped with an AM-FM radio.


Even with sister Susy, her best pal, Andrea tends to keep her feelings under wraps.


At 15, Jaeger was the youngest semifinalist in U.S. Open history.