It's a Love Game but Not Yet a Match as Tracy Austin and Matt Anger Go A-Courting

updated 09/05/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/05/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Matt Anger lights a match and puts it in his mouth, flame first. Moments later, he parts his lips, blows out smoke and removes the dead match from his teeth. "Ugh," says Tracy Austin, who has been pointedly ignoring the demonstration. "He loves doing this."

Pause. Giggles and squeals. Then Matt is volleying back. It seems that Tracy secretly—"No, no! Don't tell, Matt!"—is absolutely nuts for, er, cantaloupe.

"You're making fun of me," she blushes.

"I don't make fun of her. I just laugh," he protests. "It's unbelievable. Like this morning—"

"Don't tell!"

"—I came here, and the cantaloupe is down to skin, and she's scraping it with her teeth!"

"I like cantaloupe," she shrugs—then goes for an outright winner. "He just eats a ton! I made him six cheese sandwiches for lunch one time! Six!!"

The word burbling through the tennis circuit is that Tracy Austin—who is aiming for the championship at the U.S. Open this week in Flushing Meadow, N.Y.—has grown up. This is not to be taken literally. What the touring pros mean is that Tracy has discarded her braces, cut off her pigtails, fallen in ove and just bought a condo in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif. True, it's a mere five minutes away from Mom and Dad's place, but still, Tracy has a measure of independence and a cozy spot to play house—no, he doesn't live there—with the first man in her life, 20-year-old Matt Anger, a top amateur player out of USC. Their relationship is so coyly sweet, it might have been lifted from the outtakes of Blue Lagoon.

Not surprisingly, the kids' first meeting was on a tennis court. A few days before the 1980 U.S. Open, Tracy was practicing near a friend's house on Long Island when Matt and some pals showed up. It was nothing to write home about, really; they didn't see each other again until Wimbledon, where their first date was dinner with her family. Matt claims he had no preconceived notions about The Celebrated Tracy Austin, an allegation that she finds incredible.

"You mean you didn't think I'd be nice or mean or anything?"

"After the first day, you were obviously nice. Before that, I didn't know." He pauses for effect, then beams, "But I wanted to find out."

Both are California blonds who remember first hefting a racket at age 2. "We had a court in our backyard in Pleasanton," says Matt. "My dad was into tennis. I could keep score before I could count." He began entering tournaments at 8. Still an amateur, he is 259 in world rankings (out of about 800 on the list), a member of the Junior Davis Cup team and winner of the Wimbledon Junior (under 18) title in 1981. Between touring and business studies at USC, Matt gets little time with his parents, Noel, an ex-teacher, and Don, an American government instructor at Amador Valley High.

In the Austin family Mom was the tennis buff. Tracy's father, George, is a retired nuclear physicist who's currently into pumping iron ("He thinks he's Arnold Schwarzenegger," Tracy says). As it turned out, George and Jeanne Austin begat a quintet of people in white shorts and canvas sneakers. Tracy likes to say, "My father got five tennis players. He would love to have one Albert Einstein." By age 14, to the consternation of Chris Evert fans, Tracy was out-Everting Evert: She was the youngest player ever to compete at Wimbledon. Two years later she was even so impolitic as to defeat Chrissie in the finals of the U.S. Open. She ate up the attention. "It was a blast!" she exclaims. "It was like going to Disneyland every day."

For the past two years, though, Tracy's play has been subpar—she has yet to win a tournament in 1983—and some have suggested that the love game has hampered her other one. Visibly perturbed at such assertions, Tracy counters, "In 1981 when we were first together, I won about five tournaments in a row. Last year had nothing to do with Matt. It had to do with being injured constantly. He's supportive, if anything." "She's been very frustrated," says Matt, smiling at the understatement. "I think he gets the brunt of it," says Tracy. "I take it out on him!" Her anger at Anger, however, takes place strictly off court: They never play for points against each other. "Too dangerous," Tracy allows. Their shared pleasures are mostly movies and running on the beach.

Unlike Tracy—who ranks fourth—Matt doesn't think much in terms of careers. When pressed on his plans, he guesses he'll probably turn pro someday. "I'm just trying to have a good time," he says. "You can't worry about winning and losing. You've just got to think about improving your game."

Tracy's sights are more keenly honed. "I loved school when I was in it," the high school graduate claims. "It got my mind off tennis." But that's just where her mind will be this week when Tracy aims for the Open, a tourney in which Matt will play for the first time. "I always want things now, or yesterday," she reflects. "I suppose I've got to realize that some things just can't come that quickly."

Meantime, back at the Blue Lagoon, they are lobbing accusations again. It seems that Tracy is not only round the bend on cantaloupes, but she's bonkers for soaps and Good Morning America. Matt hates them.

"Actually, I don't hate them, but—"

"He'd rather watch cartoons."

"Or Leave It to Beaver," he admits.

It's clearly time for a service change, so, do they have marriage plans, they are asked. "No," Tracy says promptly. "We're too young."

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