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She's 16 and battling with the pros

Bettina Bunge looks like a 16-year-old on her way to try out for a part in "Happy Days," "The Mouseketeers," or "The Return of Andy Hardy." Miss Teen-age America in tennis skirt and sneakers.

If Bunge's picture doesn't eventually make the front panel of some food company's cereal box, then Madison Avenue has been taken over by the Martians. She is a high school student out of Coral Gables, Fla. (still two years to graduation), by way of Switzerland and Lima, Peru.

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At age 13 Bettina won the Peruvian women's tennis championship, even though her opponent was 12 years older. Later she ranked No. 2 on the US Girls 16s behind Tracy Austin, and her pro record entering last year's US Open was 34-17.

While it may be premature to suggest that Bunge may someday be winning regularly against established stars like Martina Mavratilova, Chris Evert Lloyd, and Billie Jean King, the ground strokes, the foot speed, and the desire all seem to be there.

What Bettina lacks right now is experience, the ability not to let her opponents off the hook once she gets them there, and a more thorough game plan. But when she puts on her best poker face and her oncourt temperature drops to 32 degrees, desirable in a tennis pro, it is not hard to think of Evert Lloyd at a similar age.

"I try to play the ball and not my opponent," Bunge told me during the Avon Championships here. "That way I don't think as much about who is across the net from me. Instead, my concentration stays more on what strokes I want to use.

"I find first-round matches very difficult, because everybody is trying so hard to get into the second round. What I want more than anything is to win a major tournament, because it would prove to me that I'm really getting somewhere."

"Mostly I was tired of playing juniors all the time. I wanted to move up. I wanted to see what I could do against better players and, well, I just though I was ready. Naturally I talked to my parents about this and to people in tennis that I respect, but my decision was my own.

"Often when I'm inteviewed, reporters ask me if it's normal for someone my age to travel and be away from home that much," she said. "All I can tell them is that it was not that easy at first, because there were so many things to learn. But once you get used to the tour, it just becomes a part of your life and you don't think anything about it."

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Although Bunge has a right to feel good about her game, one thing she still must work hard on is her loose points. When she has a put-away shot, especially at the net, her follow-through must be complete. Otherwise, she risks having the shot returned.

At 16, of course, Bettina is not yet a power player and, indeed, may never hit the ball with the force of someone like Navratilova or Betty Stove. But her overheads are better than those of most young players on the tour, and she has the ability to run down just about everything.

Last year Bunge started as an amateur qualifier on the Avon Futures Circuit, but within a month had moved onto the major tour by reaching the finals of a tournament in Toronto. The next week (Feb. 6, 1979) she turned pro, moving up 80 positions on the computer to No. 29 by late summer.

"One thing I've learned is that momentum can change very quickly among the pros," Bettina explained. "You cannot let up mentally or physically, even among the new players. And if you lose your concentration against a veteran -- well, the whole thing is over very quickly.

An if you lose your concentration against a veteran -- well, the whole thing is over very quickly.


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