She was the child who, when she was nine years old and living in Birmingham, Ala., cut her hair short and wore boys’ clothing, disguising herself as Tommy Terrific to compete with the lads at the local tennis club.
“Once she proved she was good enough to play with the boys, she became a girl again,” her mother later explained.
Meet Toronto’s Carling Bassett, now Bassett Seguso, and tonight at the ripe old age of 34 she will be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. She is only the second tennis player, after 1950s and 1960s great Bob Bedard, to receive such an honour.
Bill Hunter, Herb Carnegie and Denis Potvin from the hockey world and snooker legend Cliff Thorburn also will be formally inducted during a dinner at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
Bassett Seguso is the daughter of Susan Carling Bassett of London, Ont., whose great, great grandfather, Sir John Carling, played an important role in Canada’s Confederation debate and whose great grandfather, Thomas, founded a brewery that made the family name famous.
Her father, the late John F. Bassett, is from the prominent Toronto family that had interests in the media (newspapers and television stations) and sports teams (the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Argonauts). John F. himself was a colourful figure who at times owned hockey teams in Toronto and Birmingham, as well as football teams in Toronto, Memphis and Tampa Bay. He had played on the 1959 Canadian Davis Cup team and when his daughter showed a determination to become a “real” tennis player, he took her to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., which was then home to rising stars such as Jimmy Arias, Aaron Krickstein and Kathleen Horvath.
On Dec. 9, 1978, when she was 11, Carling moved into Bollettieri’s house with his family and nine other young players. She won the under-18 title at the prestigious Orange Bowl junior event in Miami at 15 in 1982 and turned pro a few months later. Slight and unimposing physically, she rode a fierce competitive drive and glorious backhand stroke to success on the pro tour.
Globe and Mail columnist David Mcfarlane wrote about that two-handed shot after watching her at Wimbledon in 1983. “When first you see it, it looks like an optical illusion, as if a few frames of film have been edited out: one instant she is poised, the next she has finished her follow through.”
Bassett had two major career highlights, and both involved legendary American Chris Evert. In 1984, at the WTA Championships in Amelia Island, Fla., she led the world No. 2 by 4-2 in the third set of their U.S.-televised final before losing 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.
“I didn’t think you were that good,” said NBC-TV’s Bud Collins to her in a postmatch interview. “Neither did I,” a bubbly Bassett replied.
Her second highlight was reaching the 1984 U.S. Open semi-finals, beating Czech Hana Mandlikova in the quarter-finals before losing to Evert. She reached a career-high world ranking of No. 8 in 1985 and twice was a French Open quarter-finalist and once an Australian Open quarter-finalist. Her only tournament victory was in 1987 in Strasbourg, France. She was ranked No. 1 in Canada from 1982 to 1986, the year that her father died of a brain tumour.
The next year she married talented American player Robert Seguso, who won doubles titles at Wimbledon (twice) and the French and U.S. Opens. They had their first child, Holden, in 1988. Ridley and Carling soon followed.
The Bassett Seguso family now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., and all three children are active and athletic, and could one day again make the Bassett and Seguso names familiar on the international tennis scene.
Bassett Seguso was considered an Anna Kournikova of her time and in 1983 acted in the movie Spring Fever. It was about young tennis players and was produced by her father. For a while, she also had a contract with the prestigious Ford modeling agency.
She is certainly the best-known and probably the best women’s player to represent Canada. Vancouver’s Helen Kelesi is a close second. She had a longer career, with more consistent results, but failed to reach Bassett Seguso’s heights.
One memorable moment, at least in John F. Bassett’s eyes, was when his daughter became Canadian National champion at 14.
His death when she was only 18, as well as raising her own family, profoundly affected Bassett Seguso’s career. She was never quite the same player, even though she had occasional moments of being Tommy Terrific until her last year on tour in 1990.