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."
The next day, Lori would be there again.
"Kosten 6-0, 6-0."
The officials would look up curiously. Lori could see them thinking: Is this girl special?
The first time she played Andrea Jaeger, in the 12-and-under division at the Southern Open, when they both were 10, Lori lost one game in two sets. She practiced with members of the Memphis State University men's team. Crowds would gather. Lori knew people were watching, and talking about her.
That same year, at the Orange Bowl tournament, she was leading Jaeger 3-0 in the second set after having lost the first. On the changeover, Andrea, a friend, said to Lori, "You're fat. You're ugly. And nobody likes you." Lori lost the next six games.
Altogether, some 90,000 boys and girls play in local, sectional and national age-group tennis tournaments in the U.S., and for the vast majority of them the game is a healthy endeavor. But for the elite, those with national rankings and aspirations of playing professionally, tennis often isn't a game but a way of life. As a result, perhaps no other sport adversely affects so many youngsters or demands so much of them mentally and emotionally. It can destroy as much as build, not only the participants, but families and friendships as well.
"I've never felt the pressure, not at Wimbledon, not at the U.S. Open, nowhere, that I went through in junior tennis," says Chris Evert Lloyd. "I still get chills thinking about it. Every match was life or death. I remember playing one of my best friends. We must have played 100 times. And before each match, I would almost get physically ill. I beat her every time. And the next time, I would get sick again."
A few months ago, Lori's mother, Marilyn, asked her daughter if she missed playing the Easter Bowl, a major junior event. "I miss the tournament," said Lori. "I don't miss throwing up before the matches."
In 1969 the fathers of Dick Stockton and Harold Solomon got into a fistfight at the Orange Bowl tournament during a match between their sons. Since then, with more and more professional players making immense sums of money, the competition on the junior level has become even stiffer, the pressure on the kids more intense—and parental striving more acute. "They're out of control," says Nick Bollettieri, who runs a tennis academy for junior players in Longboat Key, Fla. "In other sports, if your coach yells at you, you still have your parents to turn to. Your parents yell, who do you turn to?"
But leaning on a kid too heavily for sloppy footwork isn't the only problem with many of today's tennis parents. At just about any major junior tournament one can see moms and dads allowing their children to cheat, argue with opponents, insult officials and throw tantrums. Some won't hesitate to instruct their kids to default a match if playing and losing could jeopardize their ranking. Anything goes to protect a ranking.
Compounding parents' anxiety over whether their children will "make it" is the fact that in tennis, unlike most other sports, which have established methods for producing champions, no one knows for sure what to do. Parents face a myriad of decisions: Big racket or small? Wood or composite? Two hands or one? Top spin or flat? Train at home or at a camp? Compete in the proper age group or play up? College or the circuit? Tracy Austin did it one way, Jaeger another, John McEnroe another.
Bill Amend has a 16-year-old son, Eric, who has won seven national titles. His 12-year-old daughter, Krista, is one of the best in the country in her age division. When Eric was 10, Bill built an indoor tennis club in Chicago so Eric could practice year round. Later, Bill, a research engineer, quit his job and moved his family to California, where the competition is better and Eric could be coached by Robert Lansdorp, until 1980 Tracy Austin's mentor. One day Krista was playing one of the nation's best 12-year-olds. After a disputed call went her opponent's way, Bill yelled, "She cheats! She always has cheated! Maybe I should teach my kids to cheat!" The people at the tournament were shocked, but as tennis parents, they understood.
"These parents look at these kids as the financial salvation of the family," says Toronto film and sports mogul John Bassett. His daughter, Carling, 15, is one of the top-ranked girls in the world and a student at Bollettieri's. When Bassett, a former Davis Cup player for Canada, attended his first junior tournament in the U.S., he was startled. "Here were kids coming off the court in tears," he says, "and their parents were yelling at them."
The father of one top junior player is renowned for heckling his son from the sidelines. If the boy double-faults, the man yells, "That's one." If he does it again, the father yells, "That's two."
The prevailing opinion among tennis parents is that the pressure is good, that it steels young players for the pro tour. "You've got to learn to handle the pressure," says Dr. Herb Krickstein of Grosse Pointe, Mich. His son, Aaron, won the national 16s this summer. "The better kids handle it. You think not many crack, but talking about it, I guess there are quite a few.
"Yet, these tennis prodigies don't come out of nowhere. The parents have to give them guidance. I don't want to say push. But Roland Jaeger would admit he pushed Andrea. I'll admit I push, too. If I don't think my kid is doing the right thing, I'll tell him about it." Or see to it that someone else does. Twice a month Aaron flies to Florida to work out at Bollettieri's academy for four or five days at a time.
Chris Green, a sophomore at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., was ranked in the Top 25 nationally for much of his junior career. Once he watched a friend jump in a river and swim across it after he had lost a match in St. Louis. "Back then I never realized how many guys were going bonkers," he says. "We just laughed about it. The parents push the kids, force them to play, criticize them. You come home and it's the worst when you have to say, 'I didn't do well.' It's almost like the kid has no say. Those are the ones that crack."
The Kostens became involved in tennis accidentally, innocently, as is so frequently the case. Herb, Lori's father, was an athlete. He and Marilyn met at the University of Alabama, where Herb was All-Southeastern Conference in baseball for three years. In 1970, after 12 years of marriage and a struggle through hard times, things were looking up for Herb and Marilyn. He was successful in the construction business in Memphis. They belonged to a country club. They had a maid. Their older daughter, Julie, was 9, and Lori was 5.
As Marilyn was sitting by the country club pool one day that summer, the club pro came up to her and said, "Did you know that your daughter can really hit a tennis ball?" Marilyn asked if he would move a bit; he was blocking her sun. But being a dutiful mother, she took Julie to Tommy Buford, the Memphis State coach. After hitting a few balls, Buford jumped the net and told Julie, "You're going to win the state tournament!" Two years later, she did.
While Julie played, Lori banged balls against the house, occasionally breaking a window. She hit alone for hours. "We used to play mini-tennis out in the garage," Julie recalls. "Lori wanted to win so bad. She'd beg me to play. It was ridiculous. The racket was as big as she was."
Lori tagged along to Julie's tournaments. Pretty soon she was telling her father, "I can beat all of them." Finally, Herb and Marilyn entered her in a tournament. A man took one look at the half-pint and quipped, "She ought to be in diapers." Lori won.
In the summer of 1973 she faced Julie in the Memphis City girls' 12-and-under finals. Julie was so nervous she fainted during the match and defaulted. Immediately afterward, Lori, proud as she could be, ran up to the tournament director and asked him, "Can I have my trophy now?" Lori got so good so fast that before long Julie had to offer her sister $5 just to get her to hit with her. The Kostens had a prodigy.
As an 11-year-old Lori was short and a bit pudgy, but while the other girls just pushed the ball back, Lori blasted away and went for the lines. "I beat almost everybody 0 and 0," she says. "I didn't just beat them. I destroyed them."
She won the national 12-and-under indoor title and the Orange Bowl 12s in 1976 and the Orange Bowl 14s in 78. "I used to be into every point," says Lori. "People said, 'She plays every point like it's match point at Wimbledon.' I was never comfortable unless I was up 6-0, 5-0, 40-love."
Roland Jaeger remembers a final between Andrea and Lori when they were 12. Andrea seemed distracted. Later, Roland wanted to know why. Andrea shrugged. "I didn't think I could have won," she said. "Lori's still too good for me." But Andrea could forget her losses. As it developed, Lori never could.
Of course, her downfall didn't happen all at once. Just as it takes time to build champions, their unraveling doesn't occur overnight. Through her 12th, 13th and most of her 14th years, Lori's titles piled up. During the 1976 Sugar Bowl tournament, Lori was introduced at half-time at a New Orleans Jazz basketball game in the Superdome. Two years later Eddie Sapir, a Kosten family friend, Billy Martin's lawyer and a confidant of Joe Namath's, introduced Lori to Leif Garrett when the teen idol was grand marshal at a "parade of champions" in New Orleans before the Ali-Spinks fight. She and Garrett became good buddies. One teen magazine captioned a picture of Lori "Women's Tennis Star." Namath wrote her letters of encouragement. She met other celebrities.
But Lori grew uncomfortable being at the top, at having—rather than simply trying—to win. After she won the national 12-and-under indoor title, she stayed in her room for two days, refusing interviews with local newspapers. Once friends at school asked about an article on her in the morning paper. After class Lori went home, found the story, ripped it into little pieces and threw the scraps on the floor of her parents' bedroom. She was starting to come apart.
Friends now talk about Lori's sensitivity, and it's true that any slight, real or imagined, brings a stricken look to her face. "Lori gets hurt easily," says Julie. "To me she was like a Brooke Shields. How can you lead a normal life? It was so competitive, sort of like who is going to break first. And it's worse with girls. They put more pressure on themselves than the guys."
Julie became accustomed to people asking, "Are you the good one or the bad one?" But she stuck with tennis, crying after every loss. Then one day she didn't cry. "That's when I knew I didn't care anymore," she says. From then on, if she and Lori were playing the same event, Julie couldn't wait to get off the court so she could watch her sister.
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.
Howard Schoenfield, now 24, won virtually every tournament he entered in 1975, including the national 18-and-under championship. Later that year he had a breakdown and entered a mental hospital for several months. Howard currently lives in a halfway house on the outskirts of Jacksonville, suffering from a mental illness his psychiatrists have been unable to diagnose with any certainty. Twice a month he has to take an injection of Prolixin, a drug to relieve severe anxiety, agitation and psychotic behavior. Residents with zombielike stares shuffle around the grounds outside the converted whitewashed motel, and teen-agers driving by scream cruel epithets at them. A tennis-court construction company is next door.
The Schoenfields were a tennis family through and through. Howard's father, Leslie, was a renowned physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. When Howard was 13, Jack Kramer evaluated his game in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, the Schoenfields moved to Beverly Hills, largely so that Howard could play with the best. "It was a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, rather than the dog wagging the tail," says Dr. Simon Levit, Howard's uncle. "Of course, tennis affected Howard. There's no question about it."
When Howard was 16, his mother killed herself. He was shattered by her death. Levit says Howard's mother couldn't cope with the tremendous change in her life. According to him, the family had been happy in Minnesota. Suddenly they were living a vastly different lifestyle in California.
After his hospitalization ended in 1976, Howard practiced tennis for five days and then told his coach, Paul Cohen, that he wanted to defend his national title. In the semifinals Howard lost a two-hour match to Larry Gottfried, Brian's brother. Following the match, Cohen carried Howard back to the hotel. He couldn't walk because his feet were so blistered. Cohen says Howard's performance that day was the most courageous thing he has ever witnessed.
Soon afterward, Jane and Winder Hughes of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. met him at a tournament, befriended him and sponsored him on the pro tour for two years. "It was junior tennis that affected Howard," says Jane. "That did it. There was nothing else wrong with him. He thought so, too. He was worn out from the pressure. He always said, 'Why don't they let me rest? That's what I need—rest.' "
Today Howard has nothing but rest. His hair is bushy, and he wears the same shirt, shorts and sandals every day. "I felt pressure as a kid," he says. "Expectations were pretty high, and you had to succeed. It kind of gets to you. But I loved the pressure. It felt good. Right now I don't feel a damn thing. I'm just a vegetable. "
Two years ago Howard seemed to be making progress. He won a $50,000 pro tournament in Tulsa, beating Bob Lutz along the way. But seven months later he was back in a hospital. "I don't care if people know about me," says Howard. "Everybody in tennis knows anyway. I just don't have anything to protect anymore—no self-pride, nothing. People say I look fine, that I act fine, but I still feel rotten. It's really depressing here. I can't sleep. Nothing can hurt me because I don't have anything left."
Howard would like to begin playing tennis again, but, he says, "It would surprise me if I could come back." He pauses and then adds, "My father pushed me, but maybe you shouldn't write that. It might upset him." Howard's father, now the head of the gastroenterology department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, hesitates to connect his son's illness with tennis, although he admits he cannot rule it out. Both of Howard's brothers have made it through adolescence unscathed. Mark, 23, was graduated from Yale and was a member of the varsity wrestling team, and Steve, 21, attends Cal State-Northridge. Neither played serious tennis.
Howard's father and a psychiatrist who treated Howard believe the death of his mother—not tennis—precipitated his illness. Moreover, the mother had a history of mental illness. Two of Howard's most steadfast supporters during his ordeal have been his paternal grandparents, Harriet and Morey Schoenfield of Davie, Fla. The grandparents still have hope he will some day get back into tennis. They have told him that if he demonstrates a show of good faith by jogging 10 miles a day for a month, they will take him in, oversee his training and accompany him on the pro circuit.
While Marilyn Kosten was coping with the problems of being a tennis mother, her daughter's world was disintegrating. At Bollettieri's academy, where Lori lived from September 1978 until January 1979 and from January through May of 1980, she was in an environment in which everyone had talent. Frequently she'd telephone home, her voice tight with anxiety. "I lost to a girl today who's a nobody," she would wail. Recalls Bollettieri, "Lori would win the first set, be 1-1 in the second and get sick. She was afraid of losing. Then the injuries would start."
Always it was something. At one tournament her eyes bothered her, and she had to take out her contact lenses, which left her almost blind. On another occasion, after winning a match, she suddenly felt as if she couldn't breathe, and she collapsed. A bystander gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. In Miami she suffered leg cramps and was rushed to the hospital. The doctors phoned her parents for permission to administer revitalizing injections. In the background Marilyn could hear Lori yelling, "Not in my tennis arm."
People started gossiping. In Mission Viejo, Calif., Lori got sick and threw up all over her rackets. In Dallas, playing in blistering heat, she fainted. An ambulance was called. Lori was adamant about not going to the hospital. Tournament officials insisted. Lori became hysterical. She couldn't stand losing. She couldn't stand getting sick. She couldn't stand people talking about her.
In Chattanooga, facing a state rival, Lori began hallucinating. She thought she was at Wimbledon. Watching her sister suffer, Julie burst into tears. But no one said quit. Lori won the match. Winners don't quit. Quitters don't win.
"If I did win a tournament, I'd be happy for a day," says Lori, "but then it would start all over. It made me so mad because I couldn't stand the people talking like I was nuts or something. I felt abandoned."
At Bollettieri's, the competition was intense, and all the students were affected by it. One of the stars, another young girl, who's now on the pro tour, became more and more manic. She was running a low-grade fever and complained that the instructors didn't work her enough. Suddenly she would dash outside and start skipping rope furiously. One afternoon she picked up 10 rackets and threw them out the door. Lori asked why. "I told them," the girl shrieked, "to string them at 80 [pounds], not 70." Finally, the girl started experiencing what must have been delusions of grandeur. She said to another student, "Get out of here. You're not good enough to be in the same room with me."
About this time Herb told Marilyn to take down a plaque that was hanging in the kitchen. On it were inscribed the words attributed to Vince Lombardi: WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING; IT'S THE ONLY THING.
"Why take it down?" Marilyn asked.
"Because Lori has read it enough," replied Herb. Bollettieri, too, sensed Lori's deterioration. "Lori definitely had the physical equipment to be a top pro," he says. "But she had always felt so much pressure to win that she got to the point where she couldn't cope with losses to girls she had beaten. When she couldn't adjust the bottom fell out." One day Bollettieri told Lori that being No. 1 wasn't the most important thing in the world. Lori was horrified by such blasphemy. "If I couldn't become number one," she said, "I wouldn't want to play." Then she walked away.
"I couldn't figure out what was happening," says Lori. "I knew I had the talent. Tennis meant everything because I always wanted to be different, not just a school kid. Maybe it would have helped not to be so good. I had so much so young. Seven years old, and they were already making me into something. Then I took the fall I never expected."
By the time she began her second stint at Bollettieri's, Lori's star had begun to wane. She was 15 and was coming off a No. 3 national ranking in the 14s, a disappointment. More and more good players were enrolling at the academy. "It hurt so bad," says Lori. "It bothered me when the press would interview kids and I wouldn't be the one." Some students teased her. "Oh Lori," they would say, thumbing through old tennis books, "did you win the Orange Bowl?"
"Before, I was always better than them," she says. "Now I was being looked down on. Oh yeah, they improved. They got good. But they had areas to improve on. Nothing was satisfying, because I had already done it. My world had reversed." She was No. 3 in the country, and she was failure. She started telling people, "I feel like killing myself." Says Lori now, "I didn't think about it once; I thought about it a million times."
Jennifer Amdur and Lori hit it off right away. Lori called her "Bambi"; Jennifer dubbed Lori "Cutie." Jennifer was the youngest child of a Miami eye surgeon, Dr. Joseph Amdur, and his wife, Phyllis, and she enjoyed the benefits of an upper-middle-class environment, loving parents and an exceptional talent for tennis. The Amdurs are a tennis family. Jennifer's brother Bobby, 23, was a Division III All-America at Swarthmore. Her sister Libby, 21, is captain of the women's team at Tulane. But Joseph and Phyllis didn't let tennis dominate their lives. Their home is filled with happy, effervescent pictures of family outings: fishing in the Keys, water skiing, rafting, windsurfing. Jennifer took many of the snapshots.
Over the years Jennifer and Lori suffered similar despair as their rankings slipped. In July 1981, Jennifer, 17 at the time, played the national girls' 18-and-under clay-court championships. After almost every point she would whisper to Lori through the fence, "Do I look fat?" Jennifer was in the first stages of anorexia nervosa, a disease that leaves victims so obsessed with their weight that they have been known to starve themselves to death. The malady usually strikes goal-oriented teen-age girls who are struggling with their identities. It frequently afflicts tennis players. In fact, when Jennifer told college coaches about her ailment, they weren't surprised. More than one had already had an anorexic girl on his team.
"I understand how Jenny felt," says Lori. "She replaced one obsession, tennis, with another. I went through the same thing—losing weight. People would say, 'Lori, you're losing too much weight.' I would say, 'Oh no, I've got to lose more.' "
Within a few months after the national clay courts, Jennifer's weight dropped to 81 pounds, 50 below normal. She grew more despondent. Twice she tried to kill herself with pills. She entered a hospital for three months, and was under the care of psychiatrists. Last May, while alone in the house, Jennifer patiently searched for the bolt and shells to an old deer-hunting shotgun. After she found them she carefully assembled the gun. Then she went into a closet in her room and shot herself in the head.
When her father returned home he changed into his tennis clothes. He had a game with a friend on the family's backyard court. Before long, Amdur began feeling uneasy. Jennifer usually came out to watch, to kibitz, to kid him about his lack of grace. He went inside. But no sign of his daughter. Apprehensive, Amdur searched the rooms until he saw the closet door ajar. Inside Jennifer lay dead.
Amdur has wracked his brain. Did tennis help kill his daughter? Amdur never pushed Jennifer. If she practiced, fine. If not, he was disappointed but never said anything. When she lost, he never chastised her. Instead he said, "It's O.K. If you'd practiced, you would have won."
Jennifer's psychiatrist doesn't think the game had anything to do with her death, but many of the family's tennis friends are convinced that it did. "Only Jennifer and God know," says Amdur. "If tennis did it, that's a terrible thing for me to live with. Jenny's life was tennis and success. Maybe when she lost that identity, she had nothing left."
Lori cried for days when she heard about Jennifer's suicide. She understood better than the others. Says Lori, "If you keep reaching back for your past, it'll drive you crazy."
In 1966 Jake Warde of Denver was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in the boys 12s for the second straight year. Warde walked away from tennis at 16. "One day I couldn't serve," he says. "The nerves, this time they wouldn't go away." Shortly thereafter he lost in the first round of the nationals. Dazed, he started trying to thumb a ride, no destination in mind. He just had to get away. Friends found him sitting on a curb, staring. It was his last junior tournament.
Warde's story is especially germane because his wife, Eliza Pande, also was a junior tennis player who quit the game. They met at Stanford. Eliza, like Lori, had been a phenom. In 1969 she defeated Evert Lloyd in the finals of the U.S. Girls 16-and-under Championships. At 18 Eliza won a pro tournament and two rounds at Wimbledon. Then, while playing for the women's team in college her freshman year, she realized "there were other things besides tennis in the world. Winning was all tied into being the perfect person. I had no choices. To get a different perspective, I had to quit and almost go through a deprogramming. I always saw myself as a championship tennis player. That was my identity and I lost it."
The Wardes, who live in Palo Alto, Calif., have both returned to tennis, though on a much lower level. They play a few local tournaments each year, and Eliza is coach of the women's team at Santa Clara University. Jake works as a sales and marketing representative for a publishing company. They have a 10-month-old son, Eben. Jake has fantasized about the boy becoming a pro tennis player.
One day in August 1980, while riding on a bus to the national girls 18s in Middle-bury, Conn., Lori made her decision to quit tennis. This would be her last tournament. She was tired of living on yesterdays. Her father was waiting for her in Middlebury, and she told him what she had decided.
Still she had a tournament to play. In the second round, Lori, who was unseeded, faced one of the best players in the tournament, and a remarkable thing happened. Her game returned. It was the old Lori, the fighter with the punishing ground strokes. She cruised through the first set and led 4-2 in the second. "It was scary," she recalls. "And then I went to hit a serve and I couldn't even put my arm up. I served underhanded. I went to hit a backhand, and the ball went about a foot. It was like my muscles had gone."
After losing the second set 7-6, Lori retired at 0-2 in the third. "I walked to the sidelines and threw up in a towel," she says. "I couldn't believe it. The old Lori had come back for a time, but did I really want it, did I really want to keep on going? Or did I want to go home and be set free from all of this? To be normal? I walked off the court and said to my dad, 'Let's go.' What had happened, not being able to serve, the feeble backhand, the throwing up, proved it. I didn't want this anymore. It was over."
For nearly two years Lori barely touched a racket. Through her sophomore and junior years in high school she was an everyday kid. She went on a school trip to Washington, she attended the prom, she ran cross-country. "You've quit tennis," her father said. "What are you going to replace it with?"
"I didn't quit tennis to replace it with anything," Lori said. "I quit for me."
Last year Lori said, "I realize now there is so much more to living. I don't ever have to play again to be happy. Who cares what the rest of the world thinks? That used to be my whole life."
One afternoon in 1981 Lori walked into the living room, where her father was watching Jaeger play Bettina Bunge on TV. "I've beaten both of them," Lori announced with a smile, and then walked out of the room. Another day, Lori sat in her bedroom, the scrapbook and pictures in front of her. As she thumbed through the articles, Lori sounded like an adult recalling her youth. "Here they called me a child prodigy," she said, holding up a story. "Back then I was a chubby little girl with all the guts in the world. Here's me and Bettina at the Orange Bowl. Here's Andrea. I guess people wouldn't have written this stuff if I wasn't something." Once a junior champion, always a junior champion.
Last May—21 months after she had left tennis and nine days before Jennifer killed herself—Lori was sitting in psychology class at Ridgeway High in Memphis when it came to her. "All of a sudden, I had all the confidence in the world," she says. "I can still play. Once I wanted to die, but now I know living can be wonderful. I've proven I can live without tennis. Why fight it? My talent is tennis. Now I want a challenge."
Lori was going back, this time as an underdog—unranked, unseeded and, she says, unafraid. Over the last five months she has played several local and national tournaments, winning a round here and there, slowly regaining her form. Her father is hopeful. Her mother says Lori's outlook has never been better. Bollettieri thinks if she returned to him with a new attitude, she could be on the pro tour within two years. Listen closely, and you may be able to hear the whistling in the dark.