Teens take over women's tennis
In toting a tennis racket from room to room at age three, Tracy Austin endangered lamps and tables as much as she intimidates court opponents today. At 17, she is attempting to defend her singles title at the US Open. four others of the women quarterfinalists are teen-agers and the field's oldest surviving player is 25-year old Chris Evert Lloyd.Skip to next paragraph
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Austin is certainly not the first teen to come down the tennis pike, but she stands as the cynosure of the game's current youth movement.
Some wonder if the influx of young female players will make women's tennis like women's swimming or gymnastics, where teen-age stars are the rule rather than the exception.
To some degree, this is the case already. At the open, for example, Andrea Jaeger, Pam Shriver, and Hana Mandlikova join Austin as authoritative teen shotmakers. Altogether 16 teen-agers were accepted directly into the women's draw, with more than a third of the overall field made up of players 21 or under. The larger men's tournament, by contrast, accepted only four teens and sixteen 21-and-unders directly into its field.
As a general rule, boys take longer to develop the power that's more critical in the men's game. Even small girls, however, can utilize a consistent baseline game to outlast older, more experienced opponents.
Evert Lloyd was perhaps the first player to prove the value of machine-like efficiency, reaching the semifinals at 16 in her Open debut nine years ago. Since then Austin and Jaeger have basically copied her "human backboard" act.
Concentration appears to be the watchword in the women's game right now.
"Tracy Austin has the most determined concentration at this point," says Don Petrine, a keen observer of junior players and organizer of the Orange Bowl Junior Tennis Championships in Miami Beach. "I mean she outdid Chris [Evert Lloyd] in concentration in last year's US final."
In terms of pure tenacity, however, no one can currently outdo Jaeger, the gritty 15-year-old from Lincolnshire, III.
A jungle fighter is what Petrine calls her, adding that she's "like an animal surviving." She runs down everything, refusing to believe there's a shot beyond her reach. Waist- length sandy hair and her habit of twirling rackets like six- shooters give her something of an Annie Oakley image. In fact, when she's playing you almost wonder if she isn't inwardly singing, "Anything you can do I can do better. . . ."
"I'm just a normal kid who happens to play tennis better than some others," Andrea says modestly. But while she may share much in common with others her age -- she loves riding mini-bikes, for example -- she is perhaps better conditioned than most. "I can play three three-set matches a day and not be tired -- and play some more after that," she boasts.
Young women train hard, aware that they can become world-class players at an early age.
Jaeger, who's coached by her father, Roland, a former boxer, is the youngest player ever to make the Top 10 and is seeded eight here.
Shriver, a 16-year-old Open finalist in 1978, has worked out extensively using a Nautilus weight-lifting machine. The workouts are geared to strengthening an injured shoulder that's put the Lutherville, Md., product on the comeback trail at 18.