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Carling has been rising through the tennis ranks while making do on a $10-a-week allowance granted by her father, and throughout her whirlwind journey, replete with national television interviews and an almost daily measure of excitement, she has remained unspoiled and un-fazed by the commotion, as though she had expected it all along. Half of the time she walks around like a spaced-out Valley Girl, showing up for the German Open in May, for example, with everything but her rackets. About once a week an instructor at Bollettieri's will yank her off the court because her bubble gum has burst all over her face. Her cluttered room at the tennis academy dormitory has 15-year-old girl written all over it. She's glib with interviewers, a bit of a smart aleck who thinks she has all the answers—and can't wait for the questions. "Carling's a sophisticated kid," says Ricky Brown, her favorite guy at the moment, who's all of 16.
Somehow she balances it out—budding superstar, world traveler and plain everyday teen-ager. On the court she's a workaholic, though she tries to give the impression that she's just singing in the rain. "When I was a kid," she says, "I burned myself to the ground every day." That's supposed to mean that she doesn't work as hard now, but, if anything, she's working harder than ever. And yet she isn't a tennis machine, oblivious to the outside world. For one thing, she's at that stage where she's absolutely fascinated by boys. And at the tennis academy she's mischievous, a minor miscreant. Recently Carling bought a Siberian Husky surreptitiously. Nobody knew she was keeping it in in her room until the dog began howling one night. That woke the entire camp, but Carling slept on blissfully. Every so often, smoke will pour from her dorm window. "Carling's cooking popcorn again," someone will say. Chip Brooks, a camp instructor, says, "Carling's still a kid. That's a quality I hope she'll never lose."
Carling hopes so, too. "I don't want to grow up too fast," she says. "That's the difference between me and some of the other young pros. They've grown up really quickly. I like to be treated as a kid."
Her favorite pastime at the moment is talking to boys. Her second favorite thing is talking about them. Academy employees joke about her "boyfriend of the hour." Brown, top-ranked in the 16s, was at the head of her list for a time. Then it was Aaron Krickstein, best in the 18s. Now Brown is No. 1 again.
Carling says she likes her men "young." She says, "They look fresher." She prefers the cool, detached sort of 16-year-old, preferably one without braces. "I always have to like tennis players," she says. "Is that weird or what?" She steals a glance at the court where Ricky is hitting with Brian Flowers of New Jersey. Ricky is wearing an imitation Rolex watch that he bought for $35. Neither player has on a shirt. Carling sighs.
Suddenly she spots a girl at a nearby pay telephone, her hand covertly shielding the mouthpiece. "Are you talking to that jerk again?" yells Carling, causing the girl to squirm, blush and mouth silently, "Shhhhhh." Carling keeps yelling. The girl puts her hand over the phone and whispers, "It's my father." But Carling knows better: "It's that guy. She just tells people it's her father so she can take the call."
Carling is a little mournful at the moment. A big date for the academy kids is when everybody piles into the camp van and heads to a nearby mall for some handholding at the movies. Now Brown has asked her to the prom at the local high school. It's a dream come true, but—gross!—she has to turn him down. There's a tennis exhibition in Japan. "I have to go to Japan," she says, making Japan sound like an inedible vegetable. "You don't know how mad I am. I never went to a prom. I looked forward so to getting a dress and getting all fixed up and having the boy take me to dinner and all that stuff, and now I can't go."
The mournful mood passes. Carling expounds on a theory about men. "I read that they reach sexual maturity at 18," she says. "Hey, Brian," she calls out to Flowers, who's 16, "when does a guy reach his sexual maturity?" A middle-aged mother walking nearby does a double take and then lets out a muffled laugh.
"I don't know," says Brian, wrinkling his forehead. "Maybe 17?"
"Make that 17" says Carling, returning to her courtyard conversation. Then she confides, "The boys are starting younger now, you know, fooling around. So are the girls. Of course, I don't have any firsthand knowledge." She waves a hand airily, a movie star playing a ripe scene. On the hand, a ring flashes. She bought it in Hong Kong, after long and spirited haggling, for $14.