Braces and Pigtails Aside, 15-Year-Old Andrea Jaeger's Tennis Game Has Come of Age

UPDATED 09/22/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/22/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

Andrea Jaeger has the usual teenage worries: When will these braces come off? (Next month, probably.) Will I ever catch up on my homework? (Sure; it's early in the semester.) Will there be time to ride my minibike after school? (Lots of time now.)

Andrea Jaeger also has a few concerns that set her apart from the other students at Adlai Stevenson High School in Prairie View, Ill., 30 miles from Chicago. They all center on her astonishing ability to hit a tennis ball, a talent that made her at 15 the youngest semifinalist in the 99-year history of the U.S. Open earlier this month.

Since she turned professional last January, Andrea has in rapid succession become the youngest player ever seeded at Wimbledon (#14) and the U.S. Open (#8), and the youngest ever to crack the top 10 in worldwide rankings. Is Jaeger impressed by her accomplishments? Not much. "When I came on the tour," she reports matter-of-factly, "I didn't really idolize any of the players. I didn't go into the locker room thinking that I was great or that they were. I just went in to get my racket."

Jaeger is a 5'3", 105-pound bundle of energy and impatience on the court. Awaiting her opponent's serve, she stands with hands on hips, wearing a petulant look that seems to say, "Come on; let's go." Breezing through four rounds of the Open in Flushing Meadow, N.Y., she frustrated her opponents, with her steady baseline play and bewildering moonballs.

Between matches she was hounded by the press and autograph seekers and frequently retreated to the players' cafeteria to run up astronomical scores on the pinball machines. At night she watched films like Saturday Night Fever and Grease on a videocassette player at the Long Island home where she was staying. Her only outing was a brief visit to a shopping mall the day Czechoslovakian Hana Mandlikova, 18, stopped her in a thrilling third set tie breaker in the semifinals. Andrea's splendid summer was over but her career had only just begun.

Back home, she plays tennis two or three hours a day. Last year she missed 60 school days because of tournaments, and her grades dropped from A's to B's. She jokingly claims her favorite subject is "lunch." One subject she hasn't really tackled is boys. "I'm gone so much," Andrea reasons, "it would be hard." A tennis romance might be easier. "If there was someone I liked at a tournament," she figures, "we could do a lot of things—like play mixed doubles and go out to dinner. You don't have to get home at 1 a.m. just to show you like someone."

Jaeger's parents came to the U.S. from Switzerland in 1956. Her father owned a lounge on Chicago's North Side and her mother worked in a beauty shop. Coached by Dad, older sister Suzy was already on the junior tennis circuit when Andrea started playing at age 8. She charged through the junior ranks, winning the national title for girls 18 and under at age 13 and turned pro at 14 (again the youngest ever). Her father notes, "We needed the money for her expenses." Though she's won more than $100,000 this year, plus nearly that much for endorsements (Fila clothes, Wilson rackets and Bata sneakers), Andrea's budget is tight. "It's not as if my dad gives me $5,000," she explains, "and says, 'Here, go buy some school supplies.' "

Suzy is a freshman on a tennis scholarship at Stanford, but Dad, now a full-time tennis teacher, frankly has more ambitious hopes for Andrea. "I think she could be No. 1 if she really, really worked at it," he says. "But she'd have to give up everything she enjoys." Andrea doesn't relish that prospect. "I wouldn't play if I was the type who just ate, drank and slept tennis," she contends. "But for now, I'm still having a good time."

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