Carling developed an all-court game. From her hyper father she gained a love for the quick ending, for knocking off a winner at the net. Bollettieri, in effect, was her second father, and completely different. He is dogged and resolute, with weary eyes scored by veins, and his voice rasps and croaks. He sleeps only a few hours a night and never seems to wear out. He's a baseliner, and now Carling can play that game, too.
In 1981, at 13, she had cracked the world Top 10 in the junior rankings, a tribute to her financial resources as much as to her forehand, because she could afford to travel to the tournaments. In 1982, at 14, she won the JAL Cup, a major juniors event in Japan, a sign of things to come.
She also made her movie debut, to the delight of The Hollywood Reporter and folks back in Canada, who began comparing her with another Canadian, Mary Pickford, who became America's sweetheart more than 60 years ago. Her near upset of Evert Lloyd was front-page news in Canada. She got fan mail addressed to "Carling Bassett, Tennis Player, Toronto," which helped reaffirm her sense of nationality.
Last Christmas, Carling, now 15 and one of the best junior girl players in the world, won the Orange Bowl 18s and turned professional. It was a tough call for her father, letting go of his daughter, but he remembered when he was 15, itching to play hockey. Don't think he didn't worry about Carling turning pro. He had tried to give her the best of everything, and now she was going out to earn a paycheck and punch an athletic time clock, to be a kid in an adult game. There would be people asking her opinion on El Salvador simply because she could rip a winner crosscourt.
One day, driving down the road with Carling beside him, Bassett was musing about such potential difficulties when they passed some public tennis courts. Carling stared at them and said thoughtfully, "You know, I love tennis so much I just like to look at tennis courts." Bassett knew then that everything would be all right.
Actually, better than that. Many of his friends are going bald, too, and Bassett walks with a limp from his knee operations, but he has Carling to play his games for him, to take care of the winning and losing. Competing, that's his concept of reality. Sometimes he'll be at home in Canada, and the phone will ring from thousands of miles away.
"Hi, Car-Car," Bassett will say, loud enough for visitors to hear. "That's great. You're going to the mall with Ricky? To a movie? Say, you know who likes you, who thinks you're great? Lee Majors.... He's a little old for you? Really? You know, he's the same age as Dads. Oh? I look younger? Thanks, Car...."
Whenever Bassett and his daughter are together—two kids who will never grow up—the talk inevitably turns to the same subject. Bassett tells Carling his dream: to take six months off and traipse around the world watching her play tennis. The prospect always leaves Carling bubbly. "Would you really do that?" she says. "Would you?"
"I'm going to do it," her father answers.
Then there will be a pause. You can almost see Carling thinking: I'll get so good that he'll have to do it. One more wish—this time upon a twinkling father rather than a star—and then she really will have it all.