Stephanie Rehe article from World Tennis
Afternoon With a Fawn
Why is 16-year-old Stephanie Rehe smiling? You'd be, too, if you were dubbed the next great Evert Lloyd.
by Linda-Marie Singer
Stephanie Rehe is hungry. Barbel (Barbara) Rehe scampers about their Highland, California, kitchen dishing up cold-cuts, pickles, and lentil soup to her teenager, clad in blue jeans, turquoise v-neck and red-hued shirt.
"Lately 'Shteffi' is starving all the time," Barbel offers, sticking to the German pronounciation. "I know she doesn't look like she's a big eater..."
"But I am," Shteffi counters, with a giggle that stops only at the taste
of soup and pickles. Measuring a statuesque 5 feet, 11 inches, and weighing a scant 120 pounds, Rehe, which means fawn in German, is a graceful 16-year-old who appears hungry for another dish - a crack at the top digits of the computer readouts. Unlike other junior "Great Pretenders", Rehe is the only player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the 14s and 16s nationally in the same season. She was WORLD TENNIS' Junior of the Year in 1985 and has lived up to her reputation, especially after a surprising win over Gabriela Sabatini in
Tampa last winter, a victory that allowed "the fawn" to prance into the world's top 20. Between spoonfuls of soup, Rehe, who doesn't usually make a big to-do of all this, admits that defeating the Argentine made her feel as if she had the tennis world on a racket string.
"'All right', I thought to myself, 'This is it. You belong here.' It's just what I felt in the juniors. I knew I had..."
"Well, yes. Um. Let's go back to 1981. (Counts on fingers.) I was No. 1 in the 12s, and then No. 1 in the 14s and 16s in 1983. Next year I made the No. 1 ranking in the 18s, and in 1985, I shared that spot with Melissa Gurney."
Do you feel special?
"I'd never say that," Rehe says with a scowl as she changes the subject. "But one of my biggest thrills in tennis wasn't only beating Sabatini, but also being No. 1 in the juniors and getting all those neat trophies. Especially the ones with the little silver and gold tennis balls. Here, I'll show you."
As she shuttles down the hall to her room, a sign jumps out at a visitor: "Friends show they care just by being there." On one shelf, some rocks are glued together forming a "rock concert". On another, a penny trapped inside a bottle bears the name "Elvis Presley".
Against the wall is 'The Diary of Anne Frank'. Rehe stares at the book before sighing: "I'm on independent study at San Gorgonio High School, but before I traveled so much I was making straight As. Now I have to be satisfied just passing, which is ridiculous. And I still can't help it when I'm away from home. I'm thinking of school when it suddenly hits me: 'God, I didn't answer that question correctly.' The concentration slips away, but not for long...
"So when I did so well at the juniors, I expected that to carry over to the circuit. Things didn't exactly happen that way, and I became extremely worried." She takes a giant stride back into the kitchen where her mother is busy stirring up more soup. Barbel is about to chime into the conversation, when little Missy, a gregarious terrier, wanders in slowly.
"Here Missy," Stephanie calls, patting the dog's head and offering her a tidbit of roast beef. Barbel rolls her eyes as if to say, "Please, not at the table," when the phone rings.
"Oh daddy, it's you, " Stephanie says, sounding happy, almost relieved. "Yes, I have lunch ready. You'll be here soon? Oh good."
"Daddy" is Hans Rehe, a respected animal surgeon who has owned and operated his spacious Highland Avenue Veterinary Clinic for the past 17 years.
"OK, where was I? Oh, the juniors. Did you know what happened to me on the road? I wound up losing every first round. I couldn't figure out what was happening, especially when I saw my ranking - No. 170. What a knockdown! And I didn't understand why. The harder I tried the worse it got.
"Then I made a breakthrough at Hershey, or was it Lipton? Anyway, there I was. I got to the third round. 'Wow, I can do it!' I told myself." Her face lights up revelaing two dimples. " Though in a way, I'm glad I lost so much because I learned how to lose. Don't get me wrong. I didn't exactly like it." Her expression reflects a definite change in moods.
"What didn't you like?" asks Tommy Tucker, enterting the room and tapping his pupil on the shoulder. Tucker, director of tennis at the prestigious Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, easily wrings laughter from Stephanie. Over the past three years, he has coached the teenager, and now is about to open a school for pros with former top tenner Jose Higueras.
Tucker, who resembles a lean-looking Kenny Rogers, eyes the roast beef and turkey, and opts instead for a tall galss of orange juice. "Willpower," he cautions himself, 'But it's also inportant in tennis. Now let's evaluate Steffi: she has grace, and she is plenty quick. However one problem. Sometimes she forgets to keep moving.
"Take what happened in the 1984 U.S. Open. I watched her match against Barbara Potter, who was then No. 9. Dickie Dell was with me, And I think he was a little surprised at how well Steffi handled herself. Until she was down match point. She hit a great return of serve at Barbara's feet, and then just stood there. Can you imagine? So I'm forever pounding it into her head to hit the ball and move. Incidentally after the game, Dell commented 'You're really high on this girl. I prefer Sabatini.' 'That's OK,' I answered, 'Rehe's better.'"
As Hans Rehe appears in the kitchen, Kleine, Moysha, and Schlappy, three of their seven cats, run to greet him. The veterinarian, even after 22 years in America, still has a certain European formailty. But he also has a spritz of humor.
With his wife and daughter trailing after him, "Daddy" winds his way to the living room that faces the foothills of the San Bernadino Mountains. It's quite a peaceful scene as the picture window frames their tennis court and pool. The sun streams in as the palm trees sway melodically in the distance.
Asked if Stephanie could be No. 1 in the world within five years, Hans looks pensively at his wife and then at his daughter. "No, I'm sorry, I don't like that. Let's just see year by year, shall we?"
Tucker agrees. "There's no rush to tack on a number. But try comparing her to Chrissie when she was 16 and you'll see where your daughter is better. Look at her groundstrokes which are the cornerstone of the game. She hits them harder and deeper than Chris did, plus her serve is stronger - even now. It's just a matter of time before she'll defeat her. But she will."
The Rehes look shocked. "What we're afraid of here, Tommy, is giving Shteffi this gigantic buildup, and then..." His wife nods. "Then tell me - what happens when our child doesn't become the best? Please, we won't have her being put down or disappointed."
Barbel smiles and then looks reflectively at her young daughter. When asked to describe her own childhood, she'll tell you that it was spent in East Berlin. "Before the Wall," she starts, and quickly stops as if to wonder whether to carry on. At age 18, she met a promising veterinary student, 25-year-old Hans Rehe. Besides wanting to get married one day, they also knew they wanted to leave Germany. In 1964, the couple settled in Highland, California.
"It's been a wonderful place for our two children," she claims as she serves drinks. But although Stephanie is the more publicized Rehe, her 14-year-old brother Mark is ranked No. 9 in the Southern California 14s. He also shares the No. 3 doubles ranking in the U.S. with Mark Sundahl, and although he constantly gets asked about his now-famous sister, "It's my dad who gets it all the time in his practice," Mark says. "Rehe? Are you related to the tennis player?"
Hans grins. "But to think that she only started playing at age seven." Barbel finishes up. "Hans and I were vacationing in Hawaii and got a little bored one day. So we took up a new sport - tennis. When we came home we introduced it to Stephanie."
Enter Jim Verdieck, retired tennis coach at the University of Redlands in Southern California for the past 38 years. "Sure, I remember when the Rehes started coming to me for lessons," Verdieck says speaking from his Redlands home. "Stephanie always tagged along with her parents, but while they played she attended German classes at the college. Well, one Saturday morning when we were hosting a sanctioned Southern California tournament for 10-year-old girls, she started watching the goings-on. 'Can I play too?' she asked. The amazing thing, see, was her natural hand-to-eye contact and a real sense for the game.
"In fact, I told her dad quite some time ago, 'If you had a one-year-old filly colt with skinny legs, would you run it against mature three-year-olds?' The moral here is that Steffi must mature and get her 'legs' before we see the entire picture."
Tommy Tucker sees a different kind of panorama when he and his student work out. "Make no mistake. There's no wasted time, and that's because he's
very businesslike when she wants to be. Of course, don't forget. There's an added charm to our relationship - laughter. Without that, nothing can work."
"Are you sure?" she asks, egging him on.
"See, it's always like this," Tucker continues mimicking her voice. "'Explain this.' 'Why that?' It's passe to answer 'Because.' So we argue."
"Who argues?" says Stephanie, breaking into an impish grin. Hans waits for both of them to pipe down. "Tommy's a great motivator. What's more, she's not a little kid to him. She's a person."
Stephanie, hanging on her father's every word, begins discussing her former coach of seven years, Robert Lansdorp, the man most responsible for the success of Tracy Austin.
"Robert made her tough," sums up Dr. Rehe. "But it was time to move on." Jim Verdieck sees it another way. "If you have to make a student cry out there, it's not worth it. Now, I understand that when Steffi lost to Ros Fairbank in San Diego last year, Robert approached her with, 'See you back at the club on Monday.' That was it for 'positive input'. That day, the Rehes and Lansdorp severed their relationship."
Lansdorp holds his opinion about Rehe and her parents. "What a crier. I mean for the first two years I was with that girl, she cried more on court than anyone. She could also be miserable and act obnoxious. So her parents gave me their consent to deal with her. Sure, I can intimidate. I know I'm tough, but there's a lot of love in me to give. So I wind up pushing these kids further in order to do things they don't dream possible.
"So let's get this straight. I developed her. She was very little when she came to me. Even then, some seven years ago, little Stephanie Rehe showed great promise. What smoothness and mental capability. And so elegant on court - a lot like Evonne Goolagong.
"But I warned her and the family: It takes a long time to develop a serve-and-volley game. Don't be hasty. I guess it boiled down to a personality clash between myself and her parents. I'm what you call a dominant figure, and they didn't want their daughter dominated."
Lansdorp still has more than a trace of whimsical disappointment over last year's breakup. "The reason is this: It's hard to walk away. I sure thought I knew it all, let me tell you. I really loved that girl, and it was very difficult for a week or two after we parted. I sort of felt lost. Did you know she lived with my family as a daughter for a year and attended Rolling Hills High School (Tracy's alma mater)? While she trained with me, my wife and I drove her to school and often helped her with her homework. It took a lot out of me and it's still hard to swallow.
"Now let me give you a word of warning about Stephanie Rehe, " continues Lansdorp. "Nobody's gonna push that kid around. She has a leading kind of personality - almost a Jekyll and Hyde. She's tough in competition, but sweet away from the court. You watch. One day this player will be in the top echelon.
"As for me? I'll have another little winner within the next five years - if I live that long!" His laughter turns sour. "Not even a call on my birthday or a Christmas card. That hurts."
Besides Tucker and friend Verdieck, there's another member of Team Rehe who has his own thoughts on coaching. Ian Harris, a 33-year-old former circuit player, has been Rehe's traveling instructor for four years. It was one of those fortuitous meetings that brought them together. Harris had been working with Aaron Krickstein at his One-on-One Athletic Club in West Bloomfield, Michiagn. The Rehes, there for a tournament, needed some advice, so they inquired abnout Aaron's practice partner. Soon after the two hooked up, Harris accompanied her to the Orange Bowl. "When she won that, you might say we got off to a good start," he remembers. "By the way, her gift, even then, was obvious."
Harris provides the psychological training and fine tuning to his student's game. "But it's important that we understand each other, he emphasizes. "I know what she needs and she responds. Period. The girl's quite mature, but away from it all she's like any other 16-year-old."
"What's more, in very serious moments, like after a loss, you can talk to her. Some girls you couldn't walk up to even hours after a defeat. But with her, minutes later she's willing to listen to constructive criticism."
Back at the Rehe residence, Tommy Tucker is about to leave for the desert. As he heads for the door, Missy rambles over, finds Stephanie, and springs into her arms. "If only the circuit was this friendly," she says. "I mean, why is that people think all tennis players get along? They don't. Especially with some of the older girls. Perhaps they feel that we're (the younger ones) taking their scene away. Sure, they're all friendly in the first round, because nobody's doing any better than you at that point. But the higher you go in ranking, of course there's jealousy. It's indirect, but you feel it if you're sensitive. I really am, and I've cried a lot, but I've really trained myself to be tough. Even when I lose I convince myself that there's always tomorrow.
"Want to hear what happened to me at Eastbourne last June? First it was almost impossible to locate a practice partner. When I did, later I discovered that people actually erased my name on a sheet for court time. The next day, my name had been crossed out and put in a different time slot."
Her ranking was only in the 60s then, but since last November, it's obvious the new star's name won't be "erased" any longer. "In spite of the prize money (over $40,000 since the turning pro at the 1985 U.S. Open) and publicity, the truth is: I just want to be a kid. So I'm taking this year one tournament at a time and seeing how well I do.
"The philosophy is this: My game can always get better. Chris and Martina say they can get better. Well so can I."
Stephanie Rehe is still hungry. With that, she scampers back to the kitchen.
Best left-right combination by a German (and that includes Max Schmeling): Steffi Graf. All she did in 1987 was knock Navratilova out of #1 and try to knock Evert out of the sport. (Mike Lupica in "The Best and Worst of Tennis in 1987", World Tennis)
"A couple of years ago, we nicknamed Steffi Graf's forehand 'Jaws'. And that music would go perfectly when she starts running in to the net, swarming on that little ball." (JoAnne Russell, during the 1988 Wimbledon final between Graf and Navratilova)