Watch out, Martina, Tracy, and Virginia
Los Angeles — Kathy Jordan's world is one of tennis rackets and yellow balls; bright lights and sunshine; traveling and learning; and sneakers that grip equally well on composition concrete or synthetic surfaces.
What makes Jordan different from most 20-year-olds on the women's professional tennis tour is her potential. It has been growing so fast that nobody has been able to lasso it or tie it down.
But it certainly suggests that established stars like Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, and Virginia Wade are all within reach. Already Kathy plays as though tennis is a business and not a game.
Take last season, for example. Jordan started the tour without a computer ranking and yet finished among the world's top 10. Although primarily a singles player, she teamed with Anne Smith to win the US Clay Court doubles championship.
You want stamina, Kathy's got it. You want style, watch her ground strokes. You want someone who can break back and win after falling behind, don't look any further. If Hollywood does her life story, Lucy Arnaz gets the part.
Success started for Jordan in January 1979, when she won the Avon Futures Tournament in San Antonio the hard way. That meant entering the prequalifying ranks and winning 13 consecutive matches en route to the title.
Kathy currently ranks as the fourth- best woman tennis player in the United States and No. 11 in the world. And because she photographs like Cheryl Tiegs in country-Western clothes, Jordan keeps popping up in color in all the best tennis magazines.
"When you suddenly come from nowhere to earn a place in the national rankings , you really don't have much time to think about it," Kathy told reporters in Los Angeles. "The emotion you feel mostly, I guess, is surprise. After that you're just concerned about staying up there."
Last June, while a student at Stanford University, Jordan won the AIAW College Nationals in both singles and doubles. She then turned professional and went on to reach the final 16 at both Wimbledon and the US Open; the semifinals at San Diego; and the finals at Richmond, Va.
Kathy's flair was not lost on members of the Women's Tennis Association, who last September named her the Most Improved Newcomer on the tour. In major league baseball that would be equivalent to Rookie of the Year.
What can Jordan do for an encore?
"One thing I know is going to get better is my mental toughness," she explained. "You can't win consistently without it and I think you have to understand its importance before it can be learned.
"When I competed in college, you usually didn't have to get up for a match until the semifinals," she continued. "But in the pros you push yourself every time you step out on the court or you can't forget it. Last year I worried about everybody I played. But this year I'd like to reverse that situation."
While Jordan has not yet reached the point in her career where she can go through a tournament like an iceberg through a convoy of ships, basically she plays a pretty level game.
Occasionally there is some bite in Kathy's personality when balls she feels she hit safely are called out by linemen. But part of this reaction may be due to the fact that she was a tremendous basketball player in high school -- good enough, in fact, to be named all-conference.
While at Stanford, she majored in sociology and psychology. Her father (Robert) was a tournament player and her sister (Barbara) is also a regular on the women's tour.
Give Kathy Jordan another 12 months to polish her game and the $26,550 she earned her first year on the tour is probably going to look like walking-around money.