Grand Dame of the Slams

Aug. 14, 2006
Aug. 14, 2006

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Aug. 14, 2006

SI Bonus Section: Golf Plus
SI Players: Edge

Grand Dame of the Slams

In a sport dominated by divas, unassuming Amy Frazier has made her mark at a record 68 majors

Pity Amy Frazier.Every day she clocks in for work on the WTA Tour, she must feel hopelessly outof place. In a profession awash in divas-in-training and look-at-mesensibilities, Frazier couldn't cut a less conspicuous figure if she tried. Shehas never made a movie cameo, an appearance to promote a signature perfume lineor, for that matter, waves. She lacks a publicist, an aromatherapist, an agentand an attitude.

This is an article from the Aug. 14, 2006 issue Original Layout

Most tennis fanscouldn't pick Frazier out of a lineup. And who can blame them? Her matches areusually shunted to the hinterland courts, and even when she performs on thebiggest stages, she looks as though she's playing the lunchtime doublesscramble at the local country club. A plain white visor does its best tocontain her unruly, straw-colored hair. Her attire is modest, and her skin isso pale, she once overheard a spectator refer to her as Casper. "I'm in thehighest risk group for skin cancer," she explains. "I put on two layersof [SPF] 30 every time I play."

Then there's thematter of Frazier's posttennis career plans. Most of her colleagues can barelycontain themselves imagining the glamorous possibilities that await them aftertennis. If the 33-year-old Frazier ever gets around to retiring--no surething--she envisions herself as ... a middle school math teacher. "All thewomen in my family have been educators, so it's sort of a natural thing forme," she says. "Plus, I've always been good with numbers."

A facility formath comes in handy when taking stock of Frazier's career. Though, typically,the milestone passed without fanfare, she set a record at January's AustralianOpen by playing in the main draw of her 68th Grand Slam event. In two weeks shewill play the U.S. Open for the 20th straight year. Her career has spanned morethan 800 matches; she's had wins over players from Appelmans (Sabine) toZvereva (Natasha), with upsets of stars with names like Graf, Seles and Hingisalong the way. More perspective: Frazier was nominated for Comeback Player ofthe Year 11 years ago. "I don't think about it much," she says,"but it is weird to play girls who weren't born when I began mycareer."

Frazier got herstart in the late '70s at the suburban Detroit tennis club where her parentsplayed, and she's been enthralled with the sport ever since. "Tennis--eventhe practicing--has always been fun for me," she says. "Believe me, Iknow how amazingly lucky I am to be doing something I love for a living."No burnout, no existential crises here. If you're looking for someone to gripeabout the interminable pro schedule or the grueling travel or off-courtobligations, you're standing in front of the wrong locker. "Amy is probablythe most positive person I know," says Jill Craybas, one of Frazier'sclosest friends on the tour.

Frazier enduredsomething of a slump last fall, falling to 79th in the WTA rankings. Withoutshame or self-consciousness, she entered ITF challenger events, usually theprovince of upstarts trolling for qualifying points, not thirtysomethingveterans with more than $3 million in career prize money. Frazier won a singlestitle in Houston and a doubles title in Ashland, Ky., then returned to the WTAand won the Bell Challenge in Quebec, her eighth career tour singleschampionship. Apart from bolstering her confidence, the wins enabled her tofinish 2005 at a respectable No. 52 in the rankings, the 17th time sheconcluded a season in the top 60. (Her highest ranking was 13th in 1995.)

Frazier's game,as you might expect from a quintessential Midwesterner, is devoid of guile orflash. "It's really pretty one-dimensional," she says without apology.She serves ably, and smacks awkward-looking, flatter-than-Kansas groundstrokesfor as long as necessary. She generally approaches the net only on changeovers.Her comportment gives no insight into whether she's winning or losing. "ButI don't even play to win or lose," she says. "It's about playing mybest and feeling that I'm still doing small things to improve."

In tennis's rigidcaste system, the stars get the endorsement booty and courtesy cars, butsometimes it's the rank and file, stretching their talents as far as they willgo, who are every bit as admirable. Fans at this year's U.S. Open could doworse than stopping by to watch Frazier. Despite 20 years of anonymity, she'sactually quite easy to spot. Just look for the player without an entourage,happy as hell simply to be out there.

Old Reliables

In addition to Frazier, here are five other playersunlikely to act their advanced age at the U.S. Open, which begins on Aug.28.

Andre Agassi, 36: At his record 21st straight Open andfinal slam, can Agassi fire up something for the memory banks?

Jonas Bjorkman, 34: Popular Swede is coming off astunning Wimbledon semifinal run and is still a top doubles player.

Fabrice Santoro, 33: Crafty Frenchman, nicknamed theMagician for his arsenal of unusual shots, still has tricks in his bag.

Ai Sugiyama, 31: After she beat Martina Hingis in thethird round at Wimbledon, the Japanese veteran reentered the WTA's top 20.

Martina Navratilova, 49: Grandma, owner of 58 GrandSlam titles, will finally call it a career after the U.S. Open. We think.

After a trip to the minors in 2005, Frazier won the eighth WTA title (inset) ofher career.