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Jaeger Is Back in the Swing of Things

Times Staff Writer

Nineteen-year-old Andrea Jaeger’s life used to be dominated by tennis. That was during her youth.

“When I was young, I got up, practiced, played a match, and went to sleep,” she said. “If I played eight hours a day, I figured I’d get better.”

She got very good very fast. Jaeger was the third-ranked woman player in the world in 1982 and ’83, but then suffered a rotator cuff injury to her right shoulder last August that led her to believe her career might be over.

Monday, Jaeger spent part of the afternoon preparing for her first singles match in tournament play in eight months. She practiced whipping forehands down the line and hitting cross-court volleys at the San Diego Hilton Beach and Tennis Resort.

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The fourth-seeded Jaeger will face Barbara Gerken in today’s fourth match at the Virginia Slims of San Diego tournament. Matches begin at 10 a.m.

Jaeger, who has a sweet smile, infectious laugh and an “Annie” perm, also spent Monday talking with friends, discussing plans for seeing an afternoon movie, a return visit to the San Diego Zoo and ironing out dinner plans.

“I’m a more well-rounded person than I was four years ago, three years ago, or even a year ago,” Jaeger said.

What a year it has been off the court for Jaeger, a phenom who finally had a chance to live the life of a teen-ager when she was sidelined with an injury.

In August, Jaeger’s shoulder injury made it difficult for her to even write. It forced her to default a match, after playing just one match for the United States Olympic tennis team.

“I didn’t think I’d play for at least a year,” Jaeger said, “and I felt that sitting around and going to doctors wouldn’t be great.”

Jaeger had a reputation for being somewhat of a spoiled child who questioned too many calls and won too many matches during her early teen years.

“When I was playing, I heard stories about me that I didn’t even know were going on,” she said.

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When she knew she wouldn’t play for a while, if ever, she didn’t brood or sit around feeling sorry for herself. She decided to enroll in college, something she had wanted to do ever since her 23-year old sister, Susy, went to Stanford five years ago.

Being a lover of animals and zoos, Jaeger enrolled in Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Fla. to study zoology.

Her dream of working with dolphins and killer whales moved closer to reality. Jaeger, a straight-A student in high school, was able to attend class on a regular basis for the first time since her freshman year in high school.

It wasn’t until late December that Jaeger hit a tennis ball again. Her life was dominated by school, and by learning to socialize with people her own age. And it was strange at first.

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“I went through four years in high school, and I don’t know any of the students I went to school with,” Jaeger said. “However, I became good friends with the teachers, and still keep in touch with them.”

It was the start of a pattern whereby Jaeger, who turned professional at 14 and was the youngest player ever to be seeded at Wimbledon, was more comfortable dealing with adults.

“I guess I’ve never really had an age,” Jaeger said. “When I was 14 or 15, I started hanging around with people 15 years older. My friends on the tour were my teachers’ age. I used to spend a lot of time with Wendy (Turnbull) and Chris (Evert Lloyd), and I traveled with my dad.”

When she started college, the tour veteran of 19 was suddenly a rookie.

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“At first, I would go back to my apartment right after class and study,” Jaeger said. “Then I found out I was studying stuff I didn’t even have to. Finally, I got into a system where I’d stay up all night and study.”

It also took time for Jaeger to make friends.

“On the tour, people will like you if you do well,” Jaeger said, “and they won’t if you don’t do well.”

It’s understandable that Jaeger was wary of who would become her friend because of who she was.

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“One girl went around and told people I was a bitch before she even met me,” Jaeger said. “You can’t win with those people.”

There were also students who she felt were very immature. They were envious and jealous of her success, and their life style did snot mesh with hers.

“Maybe I’m square,” Jaeger said, “but I don’t do drugs, don’t drink or mess around. And I don’t think I’ve grown up to be that bad a person . . .

“A lot of the guys at school just wanted to get drunk every night. You don’t go out with a girl when you’re drunk. I was used to traveling around and being in charge of my life, and here were guys who couldn’t find their apartment.”

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But Jaeger was confident enough in herself, and slowly she began to make friends, the type who wouldn’t judge her harshly for driving a Mercedes around town.

Sue Crandall, an 18-year-old freshman from Crandall, N.H., who knew nothing about tennis when they first met, became Jaeger’s best friend.

“When I first met her in our apartment complex, I asked her if she was just out of high school,” Crandall said. “She said, ‘No, I’m just taking time off from tennis.’

“Who she was didn’t connect. I told her I played basketball in high school.”

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Crandall became such a good friend that when Jaeger made her decision in March to take time off from school and attempt a comeback, Crandall was invited to accompany her on her travels.

“At first I thought I should stay in school,” Crandall said, “and that was also my parent’s first reaction . . . But my aunt and grandmother kept saying what a great opportunity it would be.”

They were right.

Crandall is tanned, relaxed and enjoying life on the tour. A couple of weeks ago, the two were in Tokyo, where Jaeger competed in the Bridgestone Doubles Tournament. Jaeger and Bettina Bunge lost to Turnbull and Sharon Walsh in the semifinals.

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Having Crandall accompany her on the road has made Jaeger’s transition to tennis easier.

When Jaeger went to tell one of her professors that she would be taking some time off in order to try and rejoin the tour, she said she was almost crying. Then she got a real lump in her throat when her fellow students threw a surprise party for her.

“I just felt that I couldn’t combine both,” Jaeger said, “and if I stayed and finished school, my tennis would never be the same.”

Whether her game returns to its 1982-83 level remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain. Coming into this tournament, Jaeger does not have high expectations.

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“I have a feeling that I won’t start that brilliantly,” she said. “It takes a lot longer for the shoulder to warm up. If I want to put pressure on myself, I can.”

But she won’t.

What she will do is have fun. And she will be social.

“I’ve discovered that it’s more fun to be with other people,” Jaeger said. “People I liked before, I still like, and people I was afraid to be around before, I now hang around with.”

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College was a real confidence builder for Jaeger, who has been able to make tennis a big part of her integrated life.

“When I announced to my class that I was taking some time off from school and going back to tennis,” Jaeger said, “I told them not to worry. I’ll look at the zoos around the world.”


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