Putting the "fun" in dysfunctional, tennis' own Holden Caulfield. Even (especially?) if Jaeger's side of the story is entirely a paranoid delusion without a grain of truth, it's obvious a lot of people failed her along the line.
JAEGER IS SERVING LESS, BUT ENJOYING LIFE MORE
The Wichita Eagle
Sunday, February 24, 1985
Joan Ryan, Knight-Ridder News Service
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Andrea Jaeger was talking about killing her first rat. "You're supposed to pick it up by the tail and hit its head on the cement. I hit it, and it was still quivering. I had to hit it seven times before it died."
The rats are to feed the snakes. The snakes are part of the Santa Fe Community College teaching zoo here. The zoo, where Jaeger works as a freshman zoology major, is part of her new life, in which she has traded luxury hotels for a three-room apartment, and international fame for the obscurity of junior college.
Jaeger is 19 years old. She was ranked third in the world on the women's tennis circuit from age 16 until last year, overshadowed only by Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd. Between 1980 and 1984, she earned almost $1.4 million in prize money and hundreds of thousands of dollars more in product endorsements.
NOW SHE works for $3.35 an hour at a doctors' answering service five nights a week. Her best friend, the first best friend she's ever had besides her sister, is Sue Crandall, a zoology major on financial aid. Jaeger picks up her racket these days only when Crandall talks her into an informal lesson.
Her new life began in August. After defaulting in the second round of the '84 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles when tennis was instituted as an exhibition sport, she flew home to Largo, Fla., and, two days later, drove her Mercedes 500 SEC down Interstate 75 to Gainesville.
The steel-blue Mercedes parked outside her one-story, cement-block apartment is the only sign of Jaeger's wealth. She walks around campus every day in a baggy sweat suit and tennis shoes. She carries a backpack. She keeps a 10-speed bicycle parked in her living room next to a brown beanbag chair. A Blondie album stands propped on the floor against a wall unit, which she bought, along with a couch and a desk, on her first day in Gainesville.
WHEN THE furniture was delivered, she awoke her next-door neighbor at 8 a.m. to ask how she should arrange the three pieces. "I've lived in hotels all my life. You walk in and the stuff is there," she says. Shower curtains cover the room's only window. A jigsaw puzzle lies half-finished on the kitchen table amid letters and bills and other odds and ends on their way to being put away.
On her bedroom door hangs an "Enter at Your Own Risk" sign and a pennant from Stanford, her sister's alma mater. The room is a caldron of clothes, pictures, books, newspapers, a Nerf football, a soccer ball and few stray tennis balls. It doesn't always look like this, she explains, but she's packing for a visit home. From his place on the bathroom door, Prince glowers.
Jaeger offered something to drink, opened the refrigerator door and giggled. "Well, I've got blue cheese dressing and Aunt Jemima's maple," she said and giggled again. She has never laughed so much as in the past five months. She says she has never enjoyed herself more. She likes studying. She likes baking chocolate chip cookies with Sue and shopping at the mall. She likes her part-time job.
COLLEGE LIFE suits Jaeger. Still, something doesn't quite fit. All her life, she has regarded her peers with equal parts of wonder, confusion and disdain. As a child in Lincolnshire, Ill., Jaeger played soccer and Little League baseball, shunning girls without being fully accepted by the boys.
At 14, she burst onto the international sports scene as the youngest player ever to win a professional tournament. At 15, she reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. Suddenly, she was a star. Suddenly, an already shy young girl distrusted anybody outside her family. Her only close friend was her sister, Susy, four years her senior.
''I've never really had a friend I talked with and bummed around with. I never went to dances or parties, and I never really wanted to, because people were just different. Back in high school, all my best friends were teachers. I don't keep in touch with one person from high school, but I keep in touch with my teachers.
''Same thing in junior high. I'd have People and Sports Illustrated and all these reporters coming to school and taking pictures and stuff, and the other kids would all come running and saying they were great friends with me just to get in the picture. So I just said forget it, you know? I just sort of went through school like that. I spent a lot of time by myself.
''Then, on the tour, no one was my age. The closest one was Kathleen (Horvath), and we got to be pretty good friends and traveled a little bit together, but it's just not the same in an individual sport. I'd go to zoos by myself. I always went to movies by myself. I wasn't dependent on friends like that."
IT ISN'T that Jaeger doesn't care about people. She loves to make gifts for her family and for colleagues on the tour. The jigsaw puzzle on her kitchen table is for her agent at International Management Group, which handles her endorsement contracts and makes sure there's always $1,500 in her bank account. Jaeger said she's using the money she earns at her part-time job to buy Susy a gift, "because it will mean more that way." She's known on the circuit for remembering players' anniversaries and birthdays. Yet there's always the distance, the wariness.
Andrea Jaeger and Sue Crandall met the first day of school, when Crandall and another woman were walking behind Jaeger from the apartment complex to class. Jaeger turned around. "Oh, you guys have 8 o'clock classes, too?" Crandall said yes, but the other woman said she was going to a job interview. It turned out Jaeger and Crandall were going to the same math class.
''We couldn't find it. We walked so far we hit the highway," Jaeger said. "We finally find the class, and we're sitting there, and our math teacher was talking, and she tripped, like fell across the room. And we were just laughing so hard. Ever since then we just went to all our classes together."
Crandall, who had never played tennis, didn't realize who Jaeger was until two weeks into the semester.
''Some person came up to me," said Jaeger, "a real smart alec, and says, 'When are you going to play tennis again?' Snapping at me, you know? And Sue was with me and goes, 'Oh, you play tennis? You're the one who plays tennis?' I go, 'Yeah, that's me.' It was so cool. I know Sue's not using me for some ridiculous reason. It's the first time I don't have to put my guard up against a person."
NOW THEY'RE inseparable. Crandall is the only person outside of tennis who Jaeger has ever brought to her parents' home in Largo. They work together at the zoo, where they kill rats, feed snakes, build wooden walkways and give tours for visiting kindergarten classes. Jaeger loves that part, because she always has related well to children. Children never want anything from her. Jaeger's classmates say they treat her just like anybody else. Jaeger says she knows better. She says she knows how to "read" people so she's not fooled by their motives, and she's trying to teach Crandall to be more wary of people. Crandall, though, says she's trying to get Jaeger "to open up and trust more."
''I don't hang out with many people," Jaeger said. "There are just a lot of people who have motives for wanting to get to know me. Like, one girl was walking around saying, 'Yeah, that tennis player is a real ass.' I mean, she didn't even know me. I was here for like a week, and I heard this. And two weeks later I hear she's telling everybody that she's my best friend. I'm just going, well, 'Make up your mind.' "
Jaeger began thinking about leaving the circuit more than a year ago. She was losing. She was unhappy. She was hurting. She says the injuries finally became too much, and she rattles them off like answers to an anatomy exam: torn rotator cuff, bursitis in her right shoulder, pinched nerves in her neck and arms and right foot, a stress fracture in her pelvis. She sees Gainesville chiropractor Michael Faas once a week.
SOME PLAYERS and tour officials say it was more than injuries that pushed Jaeger out of tennis.
They say she was burned out, that her behavior on and off the court bordered on paranoia, that her demanding father - who is also her coach - finally drove her too far. Last February, during a loss to Horvath, Jaeger looked around Madison Square Garden and muttered, "Why is everyone always looking at me?" Last August, the Women's Tennis Association fined her for "unprofessional conduct" after she allegedly shoved a doubles opponent against a locker-room wall. Whenever Jaeger talked about quitting, her father always dissuaded her.
Jaeger hasn't won a tournament since January 1983, when she beat Hana Mandlikova in the final of the Avon Tennis Cup at Marco Island. Her ranking slipped to No.7 last spring. She missed Wimbledon in July because the pinched nerve in her neck and the rotator-cuff injury in her shoulder limited her arm movement. When Jaeger arrived in Los Angeles for the Olympics, she says, her arm was so sore it hurt just to put on a shirt.
THAT'S WHEN she knew it was time to get out. Andrea's father, Roland, a hard-working German immigrant, didn't approve and still doesn't.
''I don't think it was a very smart thing to do at the time she did it," he told a Gainesville reporter. "She can still go to school several years from now and get an education, and she wouldn't lose all the money she's losing. But whatever I think is immaterial. All I know is that in two years of tennis, you can earn about $2 million at the level Andrea was at. A college-educated person working at a normal job wouldn't earn that in a lifetime."
''My dad wants a better life for me than what he had," said Andrea. "He came from Germany and went through hard times and worked really hard, and all of a sudden Andrea's making all this money, and then she throws half of it away to go to school, to get a job that's not going to pay that much.
''I'm sure my dad will never really accept the whole thing, which I can see, because that's his life, too."
Roland teaches tennis at harry Hopman's academy, near Largo, a respected institution for promising young players. One of his students has moved into Andrea's old bedroom in Largo, even though there are two other empty bedrooms in the Jaeger home. "I can see they're trying to have the kid take my place," Andrea says.
She called home one day a few weeks after she started school and told her mother, "Guess what? I'm going to have a surprise for you next week." Jaeger knew what her parents were thinking.
"They're thinking, 'Oh, good, she's going to go back and play.' I call home the next week and my mom asks, 'What's the surprise?' I go, 'I got a job!' There's, like, no answer on the other end. Then my mom goes, 'You what? Andrea, what are you doing?' Nothing now surprises my parents." Jaeger's first paycheck was for $67.
SHE REMAINS angry that players are saying she was burned out . She says nobody, her father included, ever knew how serious her injuries were. She remembers the times when she tried to tell her father, and he wouldn't listen. She'd say, "Dad, I can't walk." He'd tell her she was just out of shape. So she kept playing. Three years ago, when the pain became too much, she had X-rays taken. There was a crack in her pelvis. She couldn't walk for two weeks. She saw doctor after doctor. They found 2- and 3-year-old injuries to her legs and arms.
''People don't believe me that I had all those injuries," Jaeger said. "They were saying I was burned out. They don't understand. Some of the players were saying I was crazy to give up all the endorsement contracts. You know, I could have gone and lost in the first round of every tournament and still collected my contract money. They don't understand that maybe money isn't the first motive in my mind for anything. Tennis is all their lives, which is fine, but it wasn't for me, even when I was on the tour."
JAEGER SURROUNDS herself with photographs of the players she knows best. Collages of Wendy Turnbull and Mary Carillo and Lisa Bonder line her shelves and decorate her walls, but she rarely corresponds with them. She never announced she was leaving the tour, choosing instead to explain her decision in individual letters to five or six players. She says she doesn't want any of her tennis friends to visit her. "I'm proud of the zoo and the school and everything, and I don't want anybody coming here who doesn't want to be here," she said.
It's as if Jaeger couldn't step into her new life without first pulling a door shut behind her. The tennis tour is rife with envy and cliques, gossip and rumors. That, maybe more than the injuries and pressure, was what became too much. For one so young to bear the scrutiny of the international press on one hand and the sometimes harsh judgment of her tennis colleagues on the other, calls perhaps for a thicker skin than Jaeger's. It bothered her that every time her nose itched, it made the news. She couldn't be herself - tomboyish, shy, a loner, a child - without somebody telling her what her problem was, as in, "Your problem is that you just don't trust anybody"; or, "Your problem is you did too much too soon."
A story in "Sports Illustrated" in April 1984 asked, "What's wrong with Andrea Jaeger?" It recounted stories of her barging into Chris and John Lloyd's hotel room and smashing her racket against the wall after hearing that John Lloyd had accused her of intimidating Wendy Turnbull during a mixed-doubles match, and of Jaeger following Turnbull to the airport the next day so she could tell Turnbull she wasn't trying to intimidate her and that the Lloyds were just trying to make her look bad.
Jaeger said some people told lies to the press about her. She said one Women's Tennis Association official told people that Jaeger was like a daughter to her, then told a reporter that Jaeger was lonely and depressed and needed friends and that Jaeger called her at all hours of the night.
Jaeger said the same tour official told the press that she had staged the burglary of her own condominium during a tournament at Marco Island last year to get attention.
"That sort of garbage went on all the time. A lot of people had a big part in what was going on, but I was the one who got the bad press. There are a lot of startling things that go on. People just don't want to know. Now all these stories are going around about me. It was just a bunch of garbage.
"It's really hard for me not to enjoy school when I'm away from these people."
Jaeger knows that people were surprised she chose Sante Fe Community College over more prestigious colleges. It is another judgment with which she must contend. Her sister went to Stanford, so she also was expected to go to a name university. "I didn't want the publicity," she explained. "This is a good school for zoology."
She wanted to blend in, and she couldn't do that with a spotlight tracking her every step. But even with the spotlight turned down to a soft glow, Jaeger doesn't blend in. She shies from parties. She doesn't drink, except for an occasional daiquiri, and she doesn't take drugs. "If somebody passed me something, I wouldn't even know what to do with it. So you're sort of looked at a little different."
On a living-room shelf sits a memento of Jaeger's first drink at her first college party: an empty bottle of Tab with a red ribbon around its neck. Jaeger left the party after 30 minutes. Crandall stayed until 2 a.m. At Halloween, Jaeger chose to go trick-or-treating with a group of children, some of whom play on the soccer team she helps coach, instead of going to a costume party with Crandall. "Getting drunk doesn't enthuse me. My dad used to own a bar, and I saw what happened to people who get drunk," Jaeger says. She'd rather go to movies or to the frozen-yogurt shop or to youth soccer games.
One aspect of the college social scene that jaeger is warming to is dating. Before August, she had never been on a date; she had neither the time nor the interest. Even now she'd rather play soccer or Nerf football than slip into high heels and a dress. She wears no makeup and little jewelry. She walks like a refined cowhand.
"Basically, I'm clueless," Jaeger said, laughing.
During the fall, she said, she accepted an invitation to go to a track meet in Daytona with one of the school's runners. When they arrived he discovered he'd forgotten his wallet, and Jaeger had to pay her own way. On the drive back to Gainesville, they talked about how people use other people. "Do you think I'm using you?" he asked. "You tell me," she replied. He sputtered, "No, I'm not. Really, I just forgot my wallet! I'll pay you back!"
Jaeger can't tell the story without giggling and turning a pale shade of red. She said she almost hit a street sign the first time she saw him. She couldn't remember her telephone number when he asked her for it after class one day. "He told me he was very fussy about women. I'm getting, like, really embarrassed. When a guy this gorgeous tells you he's picky..."
THE NERF footballs and sweat suits soon may go the way of Jaeger's tennis career, shut in the past behind another closed door. Jaeger won't say whether she'll play professionally again. It all depends on her injuries, she says, adding, "If I'm enjoying school, and there's a chance (the injuries) might reoccur, then I doubt I'm going back."
She would like to work with dolphins and has talked about going to Sea World in Orlando as a summer intern. She still has 1 1/2 years left in the zoology program, so there's plenty of time to decide. In the meantime, Andrea Jaeger works for minimum wage and cleans animal cages and writes term papers,
"But, see, I have fun all the time. I go to classes and have fun. Everything's fun for me. It's all so new that it's fun."