Andrea!" shouts Roland Jaeger. "Andrea! Andrea! Look at that! Andrea, you're leaning backward on your backhand! Andrea, do you hear me?"
Jaeger is at The Courts On 22, where he is a teaching tennis pro, standing on a balcony from which he can study a practice session involving his daughters Andrea, 14, who is the latest deluxe model off America's junior tennis assembly line, and Susy, 17, and Steve Casati, a fellow pro. Jaeger has spotted a flaw in Andrea's backhand, and he's beginning to act like a farmer who has just discovered worms in his corn.
"Andrea! Do you hear me?"
"Whaaat?" shouts his daughter, finally glancing up in exasperation.
July 8, 1979
"Your shoulder's not staying down on your backhand. There, you did it again. Andrea, you've got to keep that shoulder down!"
"Darn it," Jaeger says, turning away. "I haven't been paying enough attention to her. Now she's got a problem...." And he starts seething on the balcony, where he is surrounded by tennis mothers who spend hours each day talking among themselves, often nastily, about some girl or boy who's suspected of cheating.
A bit later Andrea calls to Jaeger, "Dad, what's for dinner?"
"Don't worry about that. It doesn't matter," he replies. "Keep your shoulder down!"
"I'm starved," protests Andrea. She has been on the court for almost three hours. Tomorrow will be Saturday, which means she'll be able to practice longer.
The Jaeger family lives in a suburb of Chicago called Lincolnshire, their house nestled in a tranquil subdivision where the streets are named after the haunts and characters of Robin Hood. For example, the Jaeger (pronounced yayger) house is on Sheffield Court. With its quaint Old English trappings and its placid appearance, Lincolnshire seems an unlikely spot to find people consumed with competitive passion, to discover a family that applies Germanic diligence and order to the pursuit of junior championships. But among the Jaegers, and especially for Andrea, tennis has always been a four-letter word—WORK. There is evidence of this readily at hand: an inside wall of the Jaeger garage is stained with oil smears, a reminder of Andrea's first encounter with tennis. Wearing a coat, gloves and boots against sub-freezing cold, she hit balls against the garage wall for hours one winter, each shot picking up a blob of oil from the floor, to prove to her parents that she was old enough for tennis lessons. She was seven.
Now seven years later, Andrea is competing in Wimbledon's junior singles championship as one of four invited U.S. girls. She is seeded second behind Czechoslovakia's Hana Mandlikova, who is 17. It has been years since anyone her age beat her. She has won eight national age-group titles and is top-ranked in three United States Tennis Association classes: 14-and-under singles and doubles (with Beverly Bowes); the 16 doubles (with her sister), and the 16 singles, in which she ranks fourth. The three ahead of her are, ah! Tracy Austin, who plays with the big girls at Wimbledon, Bettina Bunge and Kelly Henry.
Jaeger recently beat Bunge and Henry, and last winter she became the youngest player to win the Orange Bowl tournament in Miami, a competition in which kids bare their braces and play like tigresses. Andrea also demolished accomplished older players in the Rolex Invitational, the National Indoors 21-and-under tournament and the Pepsi Cola Grand Prix finals. She has been selected for the Junior Wightman Cup team, and this summer will compete nationally in the bracket for 18-year-olds, hoping to earn a berth in the U.S. Open.
These considerable accomplishments, and the notable future they presage, have not come by happenstance. During the winter Andrea and Susy—who also knows the meaning of the word "work," as the thick, peeling calluses on her hands attest—are up well before the sun so that they can get in an hour of practice before school. Which is fine with Andrea, who believes that the harder she works, the luckier she gets.
Although Andrea looks frail—she weighs a scant 85 pounds and is barely five feet tall—one of her favorite tricks is acing an adult, hitting the ball so hard that onlookers gasp. Not only can she "whale," her term for whacking the cover off the ball, but she can also "outpatience" her opponents. And she is the master of a tantalizing changeup, the ability to float a lob off a highspeed drive. In her hands the racket is what the steering wheel is to a race driver—a precision instrument. Robert Landsdorp, Austin's coach, calls Andrea "a female John McEnroe. She has such control, such feel with the racket. You can't teach that." Andrea also cares not a whit if it is hot and humid and the sun is beating down. After all, she is only 14—and a Jaeger.
Naturally, there is a tendency to compare her accomplishments with Austin's at the same age. On the record, there isn't much difference, although a couple of months after her 14th birthday Austin won an Avon Futures professional event, and Jaeger has yet to venture among the pros. Landsdorp says Andrea has more talent than Tracy did at the same age, but he believes Tracy would have beaten her on mental toughness. There are similarities in looks, too. Tracy wore braces and utilized a two-handed backhand, but that's about it.
The points of contrast are more striking. Austin grew up in California, where tennis can be played outdoors the year around, in a tennis family that taught the backhand grip on the baby bottle. Andrea's parents are European immigrants who, a dozen years ago, had not even played the game. Moreover, Andrea has had a cold climate to contend with. Finally, it is extremely doubtful that Joe Louis has impinged upon the Austins' lives anywhere near as much as he has on the Jaegers'.
Roland and his wife, Use, grew up on the German side of the Swiss-German border near Basel. He recalls that his mother, who died when he was seven, wept on hearing over the radio that the Brown Bomber had defeated Max Schmeling for the heavyweight title. It seems Louis' name has been on the tip of Roland's tongue ever since. His father, an accountant by trade, served in the Wehrmacht in World War II, was taken prisoner by the Russians and was held in a POW camp until 1951.
Roland, now a muscular 45, played some soccer in his youth and had 69 fights as an amateur boxer, losing only three. As a young married man he raced the family car, a modified Corvette, in local events. In Europe he was a bricklayer. When he and Use came to the U.S. in 1956, this trade kept him going until he could scrape up enough money to buy a neighborhood bar on Chicago's North Side. For years he bossed a bricklaying crew and ran the bar simultaneously.
When he finally did take up tennis, Jaeger, as luck would have it, was able to pick up fine points from Frank Parker (nè Frank Andzei Pajkowski), the former U.S. champion, who occasionally played on an adjacent court.
Ilse, herself a paragon of Germanic perseverance, is a beautician in a shop 25 miles from Lincolnshire, to which she drives twice a week. By now Use knows her way around a tennis court, too. She and Roland are a formidable doubles team at the club level. Use does needlepoint on the sidelines while her daughters play in tournaments, and naturally there are those who have drawn a parallel with Mme. Defarge, who knitted as the guillotine fell.
In 1977 Roland, who has always been Andrea's coach, became a teaching pro at The Courts On 22, a tennis complex situated alongside the tollway between Chicago and Milwaukee. Today he has 200 young pupils; he also runs a junior tennis camp there in the summer.
Jaeger wears his hair in a Dutch-boy cut, the bangs hanging down nearly to his clear blue eyes. His voice is hoarse from yelling imprecations at his students. (A parent once told Jaeger that he suffered a mild heart attack after hearing him berate his son.) In conversation Jaeger is animated; his hands are never still. Curiously, he calls his favorite students "turtle soups."
To say that Jaeger has boundless energy would be to accuse him of laziness. He is on the courts 12 hours a day, seven days a week, changing sweat-soaked shirts three times daily. For years he has driven Andrea and Susy to tournaments, near and far, in a van. "One, it saved money," he says. "Two, if the girls lost early, they knew it would be a long ride home." Although Jaeger is by no means a wealthy man, he has been spending some $7,500 a year to keep his daughters in the forefront of a sport that devours checkbooks. A friend once told him, "The players arrived in BMWs and Mercedes, but the trophies leave in a van." Meaning Jaeger's.
There are several reasons for that, one being his work-for-the-night-cometh intensity. He often uses the phrase "getting down to the nails." Which is where Andrea is in the habit of getting down to. "If you want to beat her," he says, "you actually have to be 6-2 better, otherwise you will lose. She's tough."
Though she is small, Andrea generates astonishing power. She has a serve that would be passable for a woman professional. Apparently she has strong hands. Her father compares her power with Joe Louis' left hook. "It only went four inches and—boom!" he says. In Jaeger's lexicon "dodgers" are players who skip certain junior tournaments in order to avoid outstanding players. "Joe Louis used to say, 'You can run but you can't hide,' " he says. The implication is clear: dodge the Jaegers though you may, sooner or later they're gonna get you.
"I'll tell you the truth," says Jaeger. "There were times when we pushed the kids. Now we don't have to anymore." On days when the girls felt they didn't want to practice, the alternative was to do housework or clean the garage. "They found out it wasn't so bad on the tennis court." When Susy started playing, a neighborhood newspaper ran a photo of an unidentified girl on a tennis court. "Susy, you should look at this girl," Jaeger said at the breakfast table. The previous day he had ranted because she had played so poorly. "Dad," said Susy, "that's me." Roland had not noticed the girl's face, only her estimable form.
At the time, Andrea was too small to join Susy, so she wangled a badminton set from her parents and practiced by herself. That was the winter she banged balls in the garage. Then she coaxed her dad to hit with her in the street. "She wouldn't give up," says Jaeger. "It bugged her that Susy played and she couldn't. I remember the time she told me. 'Dad, I hit 20 against the wall without missing.' She was so proud." He told her to hit 21.
"I always say it's a matter of numbers," says Jaeger. "You got to hit the balls. At least 300 to 500 balls an hour. I've counted it many times. If you hit against the rebound net you could hit 2,500 balls in an hour." Today Jaeger finds that the best way to punish Andrea is not to allow her to play tennis. If he wants to badger her about sloppiness on the court, he scolds: "Austin would never lose four games to that girl."
Despite the rigors of her life, Andrea is by no means an automaton. In truth, she comes close to being a female Ilie Nastase. At a Mission Viejo tournament she kicked at a ball in practice and her shoe flew across the court to where Susy was standing. She also spotted a bird against the fence and in one quick motion dropped a ball and smacked it at the bird, just missing it. The crowd gasped. She makes faces during matches, harasses linesmen and often plays in a warm-up jacket against lesser opponents. Between games, while her opponent slumps on the sidelines, Andrea marches over to the other side and twirls her racket or practices her serve.
For someone so young, she is a pretty shrewd psychologist. She never shows fatigue, or even breathes hard, and she likes nothing better than to wear down an opponent mentally as well as physically. In the finals of the Seventeen tournament, one point took 152 strokes. The crowd booed Andrea. She curtsied.
Away from the court Andrea is charming, sweet and mischievous. When she went to a hospital for treatment of blisters, she jumped into a wheelchair and careened around the hallways. When she is asked what she wants out of tennis, she says, "Enough money for a golf cart." But in a match it's a different story: her opponent, the umpire, even a bird, is an intruder on her turf. There are those who don't understand. They don't understand junior tennis. They think it is a game.
"People don't know what to make of Andrea," says Susy, who, conversely, is almost phlegmatic on the court. "They don't realize how competitive junior tennis is and how you have to give yourself totally to the game. Part of the way she acts is her age and part of it is being under pressure. People who criticize her have kids who sit home all day drinking pop and watching television. But you take that spunk away from Andrea and you take away a lot of the fight from her. That's part of her tough mental attitude. Maybe that's what is missing when I play her." Although she is the better player. Andrea never has beaten Susy. The girls are very close; there is not a hint of sibling rivalry. "Andrea wouldn't be as good as she is if she didn't have me to play against," says Susy, matter-of-factly. At Mission Viejo their closeness was evident at the awards banquet. Susy had lost in the finals of the 18s, while Andrea had easily won the 16s. At the banquet Andrea was named Most Promising Player, an honor that brought with it $2,500 in traveling expenses. Susy was so happy for her sister that she had tears in her eyes. Says Jaeger, "One without the other is like half of a car."
Last February, Andrea blasted Mary Lou Piatek 6-0, 6-0 in a junior tournament at Boca Raton, Fla. Piatek is one of the top players in the 18s, and she has often beaten Susy. At 5-0 in the second set, Andrea thought briefly about letting Piatek win a game. "Then I thought of Susy," she recalls. "I said, 'No way.' "
Susy has always been less flamboyant, more patient and precise than Andrea. Even now her appetite for practice is bigger than Andrea's, perhaps because she was ranked only seventh in the 16s, and while other students from The Courts On 22 complain about the demands of training. Susy is happy to jog farther than the distance prescribed by her father. When she trots by her house, Andrea waves at her from her bedroom window.
But in their attitude toward competition, the girls are almost twins. "I'd rather be a bad winner than a good loser," Susy once said. And she is the easygoing one. Both she and Andrea are straight-A students.
There are occasions when Susy is also Andrea's surrogate mother, looking after her at tournaments. "She doesn't always want to eat and go to bed when she has to," says Susy. "I can't really picture Andrea going to college. She's so young that I don't think she'll ever be old enough for college."
Andrea lost only three tournaments in 1978, all out of her age group. Kelly Henry beat her in the quarters of the National 16s, and Barbara Potter, who has since turned pro, ousted her in the Indoor 18s. Andrea made a rare appearance within her age class and cleaned up in the National 14s in Birmingham. This year only Susy, who beat her in the finals of the Easter Bowl, has taken a match from her. Jaeger does not find this odd. "Andrea is a fighter," he says with a shrug. "With Susy there is nothing to fight."
About the only thing in junior tennis Andrea has left to battle for is the reputation of that other superkid, Austin. "I just want to do good enough for me," says Andrea. "I don't say, 'I want to win this match because Tracy won last year.' " Still, others are keeping close watch. Those who know that Tracy used to change into her tennis clothes in the car on the way to practice after school should be told that Andrea sleeps in tennis socks.
There are stories of girls who get sick from anxiety before matches and of the youngster who was terrified to telephone her parents after a loss. When she hung up, she burst into tears. "It's fine when I win," she wailed. "But if I lose they don't want to talk to me." Andrea and Susy say there is not that kind of pressure in their home. "I always tell them, 'Win or lose, you're still my girl,' " says their father. All he wants for Andrea, he says with a smile, is that she make enough money from tennis for a wedding dress. He speaks of a rare day years ago when both Andrea and Susy lost in a local tournament. "After I bawled them out and told them what they did wrong, I took them to get ice cream," he says. "People couldn't believe it. They said, 'You buy them ice cream when they lose?' "
Once Andrea was playing, and beating, an exasperated opponent whose mother was trying to signal her from the stands. Her daughter could not decipher the signals. Andrea marched up to the net and said, "Your mother wants you to hit to my forehand." After she won the match, Andrea advised her opponent, "Tell your mother she doesn't know anything about tennis. My forehand is my best shot." Such impertinence drives other players wild. Last year some of them burst into her motel room at a tournament and smeared "gunk" in her long blonde hair. "I had to wash it about six times to get it out," says Andrea with a laugh.
Naturally, the family is vigilant against any weakness, any infection that could spread. At the time of the Mission Viejo tournament the girls practiced through a Saturday morning though Susy had severe foot blisters after a visit to UCLA, one of the colleges that have offered her a tennis scholarship. She had walked around the campus in unfamiliar high heels. After one practice Jaeger took Susy to watch the California boys' state high school tennis meet. Sitting on the sidelines he pointed out players who had dissipated their promise, youngsters who had slipped out of the mainstream. When a boy made a foolish mistake, Jaeger chided, "He's just like you, Susy. That's what you do. Tsk, tsk, tsk." The previous night Jaeger had hauled out a picture of Maria Rothschild, an opponent whose imperfect backhand Andrea had subconsciously begun to copy. Jaeger showed it to her as a warning. On the way home from the meet, he told her sister, "Susy, you must watch Andrea. She's raising her shoulder on that backhand. You must bug her about it. Keep after her." Roland does not take movies of his daughters in action. "My memory tells me, even five years later, exactly what they did wrong," he says.
When Andrea brags about a tennis conquest her father says, "You got to prove it to me." He suspects that sometimes she prolongs points to show him that she can hit an overhead.
Whenever his daughters are on the road without him and split sets at a tournament, they phone him long-distance during the break to discuss strategy for the third set. If he is in the stands, Susy says, "I can hear him think."
Nearly 30% of the ranked juniors in the Chicago area play at the Jaegers' club, some making a 100-mile round trip for a lesson. The message Jaeger teaches is elementary: "The kid has to learn to be a tough competitor." Mistakes mean the player runs laps. The only trophies on display in the Jaeger home are two mixed-doubles awards he and Use once won. The girls' awards are packed away in closets. The impression given is that junior tournaments do not count.
In junior tennis, reputations are like sand castles. Two years from now Andrea Jaeger may not even be playing tournament tennis, a possibility that Roland and his wife occasionally discuss late at night. "If she quit tomorrow, the time we put in would not be lost," he says. "Andrea always would have to do something. I don't think she could stand doing nothing, being on the sidelines, being a cheerleader."
Though she has been to Europe seven times and Australia once, though she has, as her sister says, "ice water in her veins," though her game can be awe-inspiring, as it was at the National 14s last year when she won seven matches in a total of seven hours, dropping only 13 games, Andrea Jaeger, tennis prodigy, is a young girl who likes to giggle and "goof around." "She's still a little kid yet," says Use. "Just because she knows how to hit a tennis ball doesn't mean she's grown up." Andrea's room is filled with a child's flotsam of Teddy bears and other stuffed animals, and her bulletin board is crammed with thumbtacked pictures of her friends.
Away from tennis her love is animals. She usually finds a dog to adopt at a tournament. Her mother figures that she has visited nearly 100 zoos with Andrea. Once Andrea had a couple of sea urchins at home in a bowl, but when she was away at a tournament they died.
While the Jaegers are fully aware that Andrea is still a slip of a girl, with adolescent needs and whims, some things are not permitted. Andrea is not to wear a headband on court—too flashy. Curfew is 10 p.m. Jaeger did not go to Wimbledon to watch Andrea, although he was entitled to a free airline ticket, because his junior students were playing a local tournament and he felt he must coach them. His father, now living in Oeflingen, West Germany, is upset because the family will not celebrate his 70th birthday with him—because it falls during the U.S. Open. Andrea turned down invitations to the French and Italian junior tournaments because they conflicted with her eighth-grade graduation, an occasion marked by her first pair of high heels.
The future is uncertain, but it is definite that Andrea will not turn professional for at least a year. "We want to see if she's really that good or if she's a flash in the pan," says Roland, needling her gently. "Actually, I don't think Andrea's going to be as good as most people do. She has to prove it to me."
The Jaegers are in their van, bouncing along toward home and happily consuming the remnants of frozen yogurts. One of Andrea's and Susy's greatest pleasures is the "yogurt run" Steve Casati takes them on to get frozen yogurt in a nearby town. On this Saturday night their parents have provided the transportation, although it is very late, a few minutes after 10 p.m. The Jaegers are indignant at the sight of unsupervised teenagers strolling about the streets at that hour.
As the car heads along a deserted road toward Lincolnshire, the family talks tennis. The sport obviously has consumed them, but as Roland says, "No sport is easy if you want to be a champion." He turns to Andrea. "You know, tomorrow we work on that backhand," he rasps. "Your shoulder, Andrea, it keeps going up. We will work on keeping it down tomorrow."
Ilse is in the back seat with her daughters. "We can't hear you back here," she says. "What did you say?"
"I hearrrd him," drones Susy.
"So diiiiiid I." says Andrea.