Less than two weeks ago, Stephanie Rehe celebrated her 16th birthday. Like most teen-agers, Rehe was excited about getting her driver’s license. Unlike most teen-agers, Rehe had already earned enough money to buy her first car.
The tennis player from Highland, Calif., turned professional at 15 after having disposed of her opposition in the juniors. She got to the third round at Wimbledon, became a pro at the U.S. Open and won the next tournament she entered. She has an agent. So, getting a driver’s license is a big deal?
It is to Rehe, who has made an effort to remain a teen-ager as long as she can in the grown-up tennis world. She lives at home, she attends San Gorgonio High School when she can and takes correspondence courses when she can’t, and--the true brand of a teen-ager--she has braces on her teeth. Even with all those outward signs, Rehe can’t help but seem older and remote to her peers. Tennis has aged Rehe, as much as she has fought the process.
Rehe began playing tennis as a 7-year-old. At the time, her parents had nothing further in mind than giving an energetic kid something to do. Rehe rose to No. 1 in all the junior age divisions from 12-and-under to 18s. She also became the first person to achieve dual No. 1 rankings in the 14s and 16s. This year, Rehe was named Junior Player of the Year by World Tennis magazine.
With that record, Rehe barely paused before deciding to turn pro. “It wasn’t a difficult decision,” she said. “I had accomplished everything I could as a junior. I had two years to wait until college; I was playing fairly well, so I did it.”
Rehe’s game changed, as well. She left her coach of six years, Robert Lansdorp, in an effort to expand her skills. Lansdorp is noted for developing baseliners with two-handed backhands and an allergy to the net. Rehe is a steady shotmaker but wanted to develop her volleys to exploit her 5-11 frame.
“I’m not changing my game; I’m trying to add to it,” Rehe said. “I want to come to the net more, when I have a chance. I’m looking for a more complete, all-around game. I’m working on everything. I’m getting stronger and maturing, and that will make a difference.”
Rehe got her first tour victory in September at Salt Lake City in the Virginia Slims of Utah. That win lifted her to No. 40 on the Womens’ Tennis Assn. computer. She rose again to No. 27 and this week to No. 19.
“I’ve made a big step in self-confidence since I’ve turned pro,” she said. “I’ll play anybody. I’ve won two of the three tournaments since I’ve turned pro, and that helps.”
Rehe won her second tour title last week in Florida, surviving a tough draw to beat Carling Bassett in the semifinals and 15-year-old Gabriela Sabatini in the final. Both matches went longer than 2 1/2 hours.
“Against Gabriela, I felt real loose,” Rehe said. “There was no pressure on me; she was the third seed. I have a lot of respect for her and what she’s accomplished this year.
“We both were coming to the net when we had an opportunity. I’ve always had great luck in Florida. Maybe because I’ve played there so often, the people feel they know me. I’ve never had so many people behind me. It’s a great feeling.”
Next stop for Rehe is the Pan Pacific Open next month in Japan. Until then, Rehe lives with her parents, Hans and Barbel, and her younger brother, Mark, and the family’s seven cats and one dog. Rehe’s parents, who fled East Germany in 1958, are not serious tennis players, but Stephanie’s mother occasionally travels with her. That, Stephanie says, helps her keep a clear perspective.
“Tennis is on my mind most right now,” she said. “I just want to be happy. My school is very supportive of my tennis; my friends are supportive. I’m really happy with the way things have turned out, and I’m a little surprised. I’m just going to go in and play the best I can and see how it works out.”
The Federation Cup is not all fun and games. There’s the travel, the pressure of representing your country, the language barriers. At the recent Federation Cup matches at Nagoya, Japan, two English staffers of the International Tennis Federation had some trouble making their wishes known to Japanese hotel workers. Linda Pentz writes in World Tennis magazine that when one Englishman “called maid service in the hotel to ‘empty the rubbish’ from their wastebasket, a messenger instead arrived bearing a large plate of butter. When referee Jacques Dorfmann lost a tooth at breakfast, pointed to it in the saucer, and asked for paper to wrap it in, he was promptly delivered a fresh supply of toast.” . . . Two Californians are among the top entrants in the National Senior Hardcourt tournament at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club Dec. 2-8. Herman Ahlers of Dana Point and Len Saputo of Walnut Creek have entered the singles competition for men 45 and over. Saputo won the National Senior Indoor title this year. Running at the same time is the National Father and Son Hardcourt Doubles tournament. . . . Vitas Gerulaitis, who replaced Jimmy Connors, will play Ivan Lendl, and Ilie Nastase will face Stan Smith Monday night at 6 p.m. in the Forum Championship Tennis Challenge Series.