See Tracy Austin. See Tracy Austin grow. See Tracy Austin outgrow her image.
Sara Kleppinger, her Washington-based attorney, says it hard to get Austin on the phone these days after a victory because she's always talking to her boyfriend. Sunday night after she came back from a set down to beat Martina Navratilova in the Toyota Series championship, just as she did at the U.S. Open, she went out and partied. Late. She even had a bit of champagne.
With two of the four majors to her name, she immediately laid claim to being No. 1 in 1981. "It should be clear-cut," she said.
The year began badly. She won the Colgate Series championship in Washington, but wasn't sure she could play until 5:30 the afternoon of the final. The injury, ultimately diagnosed as sciatica, kept her out of action for months. She will return to Washington on Jan. 4 for the first Avon tournament of the year at the Smith Center and Capital Centre.
Most kids grow up. Media kids like Austin and Chris Evert before her, get processed. At 14, she was cute, pinafores and all that. At 16, she was relentess, hard, aloof. At 19, she is growing up. Suddenly, stories mention how she's prettier. Funnier. It all strikes her as pretty funny.
"First I'm the kid, now it's the growing up stage. 'Tracy's growing up, Tracy's growing up,' " she said, sweeping her hair away from her face, and examining her fingernails.
When the interview ended, Ray Benton, the tournament director, came to collect Austin. His pockets were bulging with Christmas gifts. "You should see what I got Sara," said Benton, referring to Kleppinger.
"What'd you get her," Austin said, laughing warmly. "A man?"
Once Austin gave curt, monosyllabic answers, capbable of making grown-ups squirm. Two years ago, after she won the U.S. Open for the first time, she went to the White House to give Amy Carter one of her rackets. She was upset when a reporter went along and asked her not to take notes.
No matter how many times you told yourself "she's 16," it was sometimes hard to remember, hard to empathize. "I was nervous and shy," she said. "I don't think I'm shy now. I have more to say now."
"Each year, you guys write about each process. That's what I was laughing about before. . . First I was the cute little kid at 14. Then there's the concentration. People can't believe a kid can concentrate. They can't believe a kid wants to win. I'd like to be remembered as being ladylike on the court and, well, classy. But right now, I'm still at the concentrating point. I do concentrate. It takes a while to establish yourself as a person, too, with a lot to say, and a sense of humor."
What, she was asked, would the next phase be? "You probably want it to be some love affair," she said, smiling.
Followed by the end of the affair, a new love, marriage. "Yeah," she says, becoming animated, "and then Tracy gets pregnant. And then Tracy becomes a grandmother."
The maturing -- she uses the word often-- of Tracy Austin could not come at a better time for women's tennis. This year Navratilova and Billie Jean King, for so long leaders on and off the court, became the subjects of "sensational" stories on their personal relationships. No matter how much dignity they brought to the situation, it was a trial for them personally and for the "image" of the tour.
As cynical and unfair as it seems, marketing the sport becomes easier when a national sports magazine includes photos of Austin and her boyfriend, Matt Anger, a USC tennis player. Austin is aware of this. "I don't think about it much," she said. "I don't think about promoting anything to downgrade the others. I just try to be feminine, the way I am, the way I'm always gonna be."
"I think it hurt women's tennis," she said. "I thought it would hit the papers more, they would make a bigger deal of it. It sort of became a story and died. I think women's tennis has only been enhanced because the competition is so much stronger."
She says she would like to become more of a spokeswoman in women's tennis but she doubts that she could ever be the leader King was. "In her time off, she's always doing this and that (for tennis)," Austin said. "In my time off, I'd rather be home at the beach, which is bad, well, not bad. I'd like to be on the board (of the Women's Tennis Association)."
Austin makes no bones about the fact that her life, her close friends, are at home, not on the tour. One recent story mentioned that when she's home she gets up every morning at 7:30 and eats just one spoonful of ice cream. "One spoonful?" she said. "It could be a shovel full."
She is exasperated. "It makes me sound so . . . precise."
Which was precisely the word for her. But precision can be as boring as it is deadly. Believe it or not, even Austin was beginning to get bored with just ground strokes. "I've done that the last three years," she said.
She beat Navratilova Sunday with a serve and volley, with aces and smashes that her new coach, Marty Riessen, has been working on. No, she isn't about to foresake the base line for good but she is becoming "more daring . . . There's no point in just trying to stay back," she said. "I've done that. I'm sure I can get better at it. But how far is it going to get me? You have to go forward."
She laughs at the double meaning. "You always have to go forward."