When the forehand volley that had just come off of Andrea Jaeger's racket took one bounce and flashed past the flailing lunge of Shawn Foltz this afternoon, Jaeger barely twitched.
There was no fist-shaking, no leap in the air. But there was a smile, a glance towards friends sitting nearby and, most definitely, a smile. For Jaeger, the smile meant at least as much as today's 6-4, 7-5 victory over Foltz in the first round of the French Open tennis championships.
To win, even against a player she would have beaten blindfolded two years ago, was a major achievement. Exactly one year ago today, she played a first-round match here against Jaime Golder, another player she once would have beaten without breathing hard. Jaeger lost the first set, 7-5. Then she defaulted, citing chronic shoulder and neck problems.
She was accused -- not for the first time -- of giving up, of using an injury as an excuse for poor play. Since then, Jaeger had finished three matches before coming here. It was, most thought, a classic case of burnout. Jaeger was a semifinalist at the U.S. Open at 15 -- the youngest ever -- a finalist here in 1982 and at Wimbledon in 1983. In 1981 she was ranked No. 2 in the world at age 16.
Ted Tinling, the liaison for the Women's Tennis Association, a man who has been around women's tennis for 50 years, remembers always introducing Jaeger as "the girl who is always smiling."
But that changed. Jaeger clearly stopped having fun.
Once known for her competitive zeal, Jaeger became known as a tanker. Today, she even alluded to that past when she said, "I really wanted to play here a lot because I knew people questioned whether I was really hurt last year."
Jaeger was hurt last year and the year before but how much of her pain was physical and how much emotional, no one really knows. There was an intense falling out with her father, Roland Jaeger, her coach since childhood. He is not here this week. There were fights and arguments with players on the tour. Once a non-arguer, she bickered constantly with umpires.
Now, Jaeger appears to be putting the sadness behind her.
Today's match was hardly a classic -- Jaeger hit a lot moonballsbut it was a start.
"I really thought if it had gone a third set she would have gotten tired," said Jaeger, who saved three set points in the second with clean winners. "I didn't feel tired, which for someone who has played like three matches in a year is pretty good.
"What I felt best about was that I didn't give up. That used to be one of my strong points."
Jaeger, who turns 20 on June 14, still is receiving physical therapy for the pinched nerve in her neck. And she says she is a long way from being in top physical shape.
Playing on a noisy outside court at Roland Garros, Jaeger didn't let distractions bother her. There were no disputes over calls and little whining.
"I do appreciate winning more now because of what I've been through," she said. " . . . Before, I wanted to play but it was so frustrating because I was hurt all the time.
"Now, I can handle it. . . . I used to just play, go to the hotel and play. I need more now. I have to do things for my mind. I don't want to be done playing tennis and not be able to read a book. That's not my idea of life."
She spent the past year at a Florida junior college and will make a decision whether to return in the fall based on how her tennis goes this summer.
"We'll see what happens," she said. "Everyone said I got sick of tennis or that I was bored or burnt out. But let me see someone have something wrong with their neck or the nerves in their neck every day for more than a year and go around smiling all day."
As she approaches the wizened years beyond teenagerhood, Jaeger's expectations, perhaps because they are hers and hers alone, seem to have become more realistic.
"If I had lost today, I wouldn't have been discouraged," she said. "I know for two, three, even four months, I may not win any matches. It's hard to come back. I was injured and I didn't play for a long time. Now, I just want to stay healthy and play."