In Toronto, editorials call her Darling Carling. She starred with Susan Anton in the movie "Spring Fever" and at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy. In one stunning tournament this spring, Carling Bassett beat Virginia Ruzici, Eva Pfaff, Bettina Bunge and Kathy Rinaldi before losing to her hero, Chris Evert Lloyd, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, in the final.
"Awed?" said her father John Bassett, owner of the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits. "She's the most unawed kid I know."
His daughter, 15 and named after a brewery, said, "I'm in awe of everybody."
That does not mean scared. "They're just people," she said. "You're not playing people. You're playing the ball. I'm scared of the ball."
She may or may not make it all the way to the top of her profession, but those who do have one thing in common: the refusal to be awed by what they do or who they do it to.
Some are too young to know what they do. Others simply have that intangible belief in themselves. Tennis is a vicious business. You get old before you have a chance to be young. Ask Chip Hooper or Jimmy Arias; Bonnie Gadusek and Zina Garrison, last year's sensations. They have spent this year learning how hard it is to make that last leap of faith to the very top.
At 26, Martina Navratilova is there, the favorite to win the women's title in the French Open that starts today, the No. 1 player in the world. "Sometimes I wish I could switch back and forth, be the young punk coming up one day and the old wise one looking back the next," she said.
In her worldly wise capacity, Navratilova was asked to name the two best young players against whom she and John McEnroe will have to defend themselves for the rest of their lives.
"(Andrea) Temesvari," she said. "She's the toughest one. She's strong, a big girl, 5-9, 125 . . . Topspin both sides."
The men? "Henri Leconte," Navratilova said.
He beat Bjorn Borg in Monte Carlo in March, Borg's last match before retiring, and Ivan Lendl two weeks ago in New York. He also hits the ball out of the court as often as in it. "That'll come," she said. "That'll come."
No matter who you ask, the names are the same. Temesvari of Hungary, Leconte of France, Bassett of Canada and Rodney Harmon of Richmond, Va., are the players everyone in tennis will be watching this summer. "I don't like to look at it as 'you're a phenomenon,' " Bassett said. "A lot of kids can't handle it. They think of themselves as the best and then they break down."
Warren Bosworth, a top racket engineer, said with each of the young players about to "step across the line into stardom, all have these hesitations."
It may be an injury; it may be inconsistency, or the inability to believe in themselves when they are up, 3-1, in the first set against Evert or Jimmy Connors. It's easy to project growth. But who can guarantee maturity? Men
Except for his accent, Leconte, 19 and a left-hander, evokes memories of Rod Laver. Since turning pro at 17, he has improved his world ranking from 440 to No. 27. Ion Tiriac, Guillermo Vilas' coach, does not waste time on less than superior talent. He has taken over Leconte's career.
Leconte beat Mats Wilander, last year's phenom, in the Swedish Open last November; and has beaten Borg, Lendl and Jose-Luis Clerc this spring. As Bollettieri said, "The ability has always been there. His concentration has improved. He was either great or he'd lose in the first round."
Harmon is tall, athletic, gracious, exceedingly well-spoken, a male Pam Shriver, born to talk, born for the net. He is also black. The scrutiny is intense. Those who see a star in his smile, the Sugar Ray Leonard of tennis, compete for his time and attention. Everyone wants a part of him; everyone wants to take credit for him.
At last fall's U.S. Open, Harmon defeated Eliot Teltscher in the round of 16 before losing to Connors in the quarters. Instead of turning pro, he went back to SMU and earned a degree in communications this spring.
Harmon, 20 and ranked 67th, was 15-4 in college competition this year; 1-4 in the NCAA team competition, losing Saturday in the national semifinals. Dennis Ralston, his coach at SMU, said, "He was taking 19 units in the fall. He wanted to graduate (as a junior), which he did. He hasn't been able to concentrate."
Bollettieri, who also coaches Harmon, said, "Rodney has listened to too many people. Going back to school was good and not good. If he hadn't gone back, he'd be in the top 40, maybe even lower. He can do everything well. But he's got to listen to one person. He can't listen to the bartender and the cab driver. He's got to learn to be a man."
Aaron Krickstein, 15, from Grosse Point, Mich., is another of Bollettieri's prodigies. Arthur Ashe, U.S. Davis Cup captain, said, "He's the one kid who could pop up and make his presence felt. He's won the 18s in the Easter Bowl and he's only 15. He hits a lot of topspin and he moves well. He's played enough pressure matches. He's steady. He's not a serve-and-volleyer . . . yet."
Krickstein, ranked No. 1 in the boys 16s last year, won the junior indoor 18s and the national junior clay courts. He has a forehand that should be patented. But, Bollettieri said, "I think it's too soon for Aaron to break through. He's not fleet-footed enough. At this time, next year, yes." Women
Temesvari is no coming attraction. "She's already there," said Ashe.
She went on the WTA computer in 1981 at 146th. She finished 1982 ranked 33rd. She is now 13th. This year, she has victories over Ruzici, Rinaldi, Barbara Potter, all ranked in the top 20. She routed Bonnie Gadusek, 6-1, 6-0, in the Italian Open final, losing only six games in the last three matches.
Mary Carillo, a former player whose knees betrayed her, said, "Temesvari has got it. She has the coolest game. She's got power and brawn and she's really cocky. She can find angles on the court that I have not seen many women go for.
"She uses more of the court than anybody. Coaches always tell these kids, 'Go for depth.' She can also play short. She's got a good drop shot, but also a real hard topspin forehand that'll angle you off into the petunias."
She beat Bassett the one time they met in Oakland this winter. Bassett, ranked 24th, is a base liner with a two-handed backhand and a willingness to come to the net. "How good is she?" Carillo said. "She's good. She's got a real strong head, she doesn't knuckle under."
"I don't think I'm that good," Bassett said. "It's weird. I think there are so many flaws in my game. I feel like when I play someone they're playing bad and I'm lucky."
Bollettieri said, "I think Temesvari will pull away from Carling for the next 12-15 months. But when they are both 17, Carling will be very close and Carling has the ability to go by her."
There are others to watch: Pfaff (No. 26) of West Germany, who Navratilova said "has more than than all of them"; Manuele Maleeva of Bulgaria (No. 30), who won the French Open Juniors in 1982; Leigh Thompson (No. 31), who combines grace, quickness and strength; and, especially, Michelle Torres of Northfield, Ill. In one week this spring, Torres, who is ranked 23rd, beat Rinaldi and Wendy Turnbull, then the fifth-ranked player in the world. Torres had no idea. "I knew she was in the top 15," she said. "I almost died."
Overwhelmed? No way. "I've worked hard enough," said Torres, 15. "It's about time."
Like Bassett, Torres is a base liner. But her ground strokes are not as deep. Some wonder whether she has enough speed, enough tools. One thing she has is sense.
One day, Torres told her mother she didn't want to turn pro yet because "if you start losing, it's like your whole life goes down the drain."
Rinaldi, the youngest woman to turn pro (at 14), serves as an example. Torres said she wants to get more experience playing under pressure before turning pro. "I felt it before," she said. "Earlier this year, after I lost in the first round, I just felt miserable. Like I'd never be anything."