Los Angeles — I have been stood up by 15-year-old girls before, except I was 15-years-old myself at the time! What made the latest rejection so tough is that this kid had a smile with immense face value; pigtails right out of Mary Poppins; and ground strokes that can crush an adult.
When Andrea Jaeger told me politely during the Avon Tennis Championships of Los Angeles that she only does 40 minutes of interviews a day with the media -- and that she'd already reached her quota -- I asked her to make an exception and extend it by five.
"Well," she replied, "those are the rules. But if you'll go and bring back a member of our publicity staff to vouch for you, maybe I'll talk." By the time I returned with a very apologetic PR man, Little Miss Marker had vanished.
That is why this interview is coming to you through the courtesy of MArtina Navratilova, who agreed to answer several questions about the hottest young player in women's professional tennis.
"Considering the talent Andrea has, how hard she works, and the things she has already accomplished, I'd say she someday has a chance to be the No. 1 player in this game," NAvratilova explained. "I realize that same remark, from time to time, has been made about other young players and then they haven't delivered. But at 15, in my opinion, Jaeger is better than I was, or Chris Evert, or Tracy Austin at the same age.
"The reason I say this is because Andrea has been able to expand her game quicker than we were," Martina continued. "She has good strokes, she returns the ball well, she hits hard and deep, and she is a good scrambler. Already she has beaten most of the top players on the tour and at 15 she has all kinds of time on her side."
Navratilova knows whereof she speaks, too. The two-time Wimbledon champion was beaten by the teen-age prodigy in each of their first three meetings before finally turning the tables with a 6-4, 6-0 victory in the finals here Sunday.
Asked what Jaeger needs to do at this stage to improve her game even more, Martina replied: "Mostly I think she has to go on the way she is -- working harD , learning from her mistakes, and playing in as many tournaments as she can. Her biggest weak spot is her low, backhand volley. But it is also the biggest weakness of every player on the tour."
Thee is a lot of resiliency built into Jaeger. She can lose a first set, even to a good player, and still break back and win. She is extremely consistent for her age, she gets the ball back very quickly, and she has the speed to reduce a court to postage-stamp size.
Where a year ago Andrea wasn't always sure how to gear her game, she has since become both mentally tough and tournament-wise. Most of he opponents hate to see her coming, because they know that even if they win they are going to pay a huge physical price. And, of course, most crowds take to her the way they once adopted Evert and Austin.
Occasionally you will read stories or hear reports that Jaeger is a junkballer, who throws up too many lobs, who gambles with spins when she should be hitting the ball deep, and who forces things too much when she gets behind.
When this was mentioned to Navratilova, she replied: "I don't agree with that appraisal of Andrea at all. She has so much speed and stamina that she doesn't have to resort to gimmicks. She is going to move you and run you from one side of the court to the other as often as she can, and most of the time she is going to be successful at it. Most young players who try to match their strength against hers generally lose because she hits the ball so much harder that they do."
Jaeger is the youngest player ever to turn professional (she made the decision at 14), and in 1980 was named Newcomer of the Year by the Women's Tennis Association. She came on strong at the end of last season, winning important tournaments in Las Vegas and Florida.Already she is the youngest female athlete in any sport to win more than $250,000.
Andrea's chief coach has always been her father (Roland), with occasional help from Owen davidson, a former tour player who once coahced the British Wightman Cup team. Roland is an ex-boxer who was born in Switzerland, once operated a disco in Chicago, and in the wintertime often had his daughter practicing shots inside the family garage.
As for Andrea's earnings, her father has hired a business manager to handle exhibitions, endorsements, etc.