"Most people would give their right arms to lead the life we do . . . if they are left-handed." -- Rosie Casals
Two lynx and a mink.
The calling cards of the women's tennis tour. They sat there in a heap on the floor of another drafty gymnasium, while their owners, people named Evert, Austin and Navratilova, went through the motions of life on the road.
Color shots. Black-and-whites. One-on-ones. Banal questions.
"What would you most like to be if not a tennis player?" a public relations man asked.
"A millionaire," said Rosie Casals.
When it was over, Tracy Austin, the youngest millionaire in professional sports, wrapped her lynx jacket around her. Tracy's lynx is only half the size of Chris' lynx. Perhaps, it was suggested, when she got a little older, she might get the bottom half of the coat.
"I didn't want the long one," she said firmly. "It was too heavy."
Don't kid yourself, life on the women's tennis tour is glamorous. But it can be an unceremonious sort of glamour: an expensive fur dumped on the floor amid sweats and rackets.
Casals, who has been on the road since before Andrea Jaeger was born, said, "People say,, 'Oh, wow, you just came back from Australia; that's real glamorous.' You're not out seeing the sights. You're worrying about practicing, eating the right things, getting acclimated. Eventually, you see it through the process of going there over 10 or 15 years."
Life on the tour is the logical extension of upwardly mobile America, a red-eye special from trendiness to dislocation. Talk-show host that want to know what you think, even if you are only 16, are as much a part of life as room-service trays for one; huge telephone bills as common as gold jewelry and Gucci loafers.
But you can't have one without the other. The spotlight doesn't have a permanent address. Martina Navratilova recalls that when the tennis players started the annual tradition called "the ladies of the evening," it was supposed to be a chance for the players and the tour officials, who work their matches, to switch places for a night.
"We were supposed to be the ballboys, get the towels. But the players, who were supposed to be the people behind the scenes, couldn't stand it. They're showoffs. You get into the limelight and you find any way you can to stay in it. It's not being the one that's listened to. That's what gives you the status."
So you pack your bags, invest in a cassette recorder, and remember "that you're fortunate to be able to do it," said Casals.
The problem with being a woman on the road is that there is no role model. "There is no book," said Ana Leaird, public relations director for the Women's Tennis Association. "No manual. You have to figure it out as you go along."
The tour, which Chris Evert call "a bit like a sorority," has in its 10 years "developed its own coping mechanisms." Boggle. Backgammon. A kazoo band. Singing telegrams.
As the tour has become richer, and more richly competitive, the need for noncempetitive companionship has become more acute. Just everyone has something or someone that keeps her sane: a mother, a father, a coach, a lover, a god. For a while, pets were in and the locker room began to resemble a kennel. "Now," said Leaird, "there are fewer dogs and more parents."
Leaird says the biggest change in the tour in the last three years is that many players are bringing along traveling commpanions. "Tournaments have to budget for two now," she said.
"Money has a lot to do with it," said Evert. "Now we can afford to bring someone along."
Mima Jausovec, the alternate in this week's Colgate Series Championships, says it costs about $750 a week for her and a coach to travel the circuit. She used to travel with her boyfriend, but they broke up. She wasn't crazy about supporting him. "The men have their wives traveling with them. But the opposite, unless it is two tennis players, like Chris and John (Lloyd), I don't think it can work. I think every real man would want to work."
Meeting men on the roadd is no easier, she says. "If you meet someone you really like, he is afraid to talk to you. The others have too much guts. So, we are never satisfied.
Wendy Turnbull is the only player in the top 10 who travels alone. "I have my cassette recorder," she said, smiling. This fall, when she became the tour's newest millionaire, she was interviewed by Ted Tinling, WTA press liaison and designer extraordinaire. Tinling, who says the women on the tour have a "natural expectancy of a very lonely life," began the interview by saying, "Traditionally, money buys property and sometimes happiness. I know you have property, what about the happiness? You are 28, the clock ticks by." Tinling later said, "Well, she wasn't about to have me make her into a tragedy and I wasn't about to."
Turnbull smiled as she recalled the conversation: "I'll have to tell the girls to look say." A wry shrug. "I was already happy. I don't think I needed the money. Money can't buy everything, that's true. What it can't buy, I can use.' You know that song? By the Flying Lizards. I left that tape at home."
Turnbull, whose grandmother was one of the founders of the Australian feminist movement, said, "My phone bills are extremely high. It is a lonely life; there is no denying it. But it is ridiculous, when your are at the top achieving what you set to do, to say you are unhappy."
Kathy Jordan, who has been on the tour for just about a year, also travels alone. "I wouldn't want someone doting on me," she said. "It's not the kind of relationship I want to have, someone sitting around waiting for me.
"You can be a baby, eat room service, see HBO. You don't have to talk to anyone. It depends on what kind of person you are."
Evert, who has been profoundly unhappy at times on the road, said, "I traveled alone for five years nonstop. The longest period I was have was two weeks. You lose your identity. You don't know whether you're coming or going. I yearned for roots, for a home life."
Now, she brings her home life with her in the person of her husband. "He didn't want to change me. Maybe I wanted to change myself. I thought I wanted to be the sweet, nice little housewife. He made me realize I had to accept myself for what I am, a very competitive person."
Although it is a life that makes girls grow up in a hurry, it also babies them. "It's so easy," said Navratilova. "When you are at home, you have to take out the garbage, hang up the pictures, take out the dog. You really appreciate housewives. On the road, you call up room service and you come back and it's all made up. It has spoiled me. You say: 'If I don't do it, someone else will.'"
So much time on the road is dead time, sometimes six hours a day. "You're like a robot. You get up, pack the bags, get into a cab, go to the airport, get the bags checked and wait. Once you're in the plane, you can do something; listen to music or read. In between, I read a lot of trash. It doesn't do a lot for your brain.
"We're all pretty bright but tennis dulls you," she said. "When I read something and I don't know who that person is, whether it is a painter or a director, that's when I feel dumb."
The life style, she says, "breeds ignorance and singlemindedness in the worst way. I read the papers, so I could always talk about something. A lot of players don't. They sound pretty dumb."
Older players are often the ones that try to make the most of the time. Betty Stove once took four novels in four different languages along on the tour. Pam Shriver of Lutherville, Md., who crammed two years of high school into one so that she could get back into tennis, said, "I'm not one who goes out to the Smithsonian to broaden my culture 'cause I never had any to begin with. It hasn't dulled me any."
Her coach, Don Candy, disagreed. "It is dulling," he said, "because so much effort is needed for those two hours a day on the court. You can't get on the plane and worry about the credit cards and the luggage. You can't say, 'Damn it all.' You've got to hang together for those two bloody glammorous hours on the court."
Sometimes, Shriver says, "You want an egg without paying $4 for it. And sometimes you want to be able to go downstairs without getting dressed." But those bloody, glamourous two hours on the court "make up for all the crud."