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Get to Know: Hayley Carter, University of North Carolina

Hayley Carter in action at the 2016 USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships.
November 4, 2016 04:33 PM

By Pat Mitsch, special to USTA.com

Hayley Carter is the country’s top-ranked women’s college singles player, and according to her, she’s also near the top in another category: “nerdiness.”

The 21-year old senior is not only No. 1 in the ITA women’s singles rankings, she’s also quite the economics buff and will cap her fall semester with an internship at Wells Fargo.

In the meantime, Carter reached the quarterfinals of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships with a 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 7-ranked Maegan Manasse of Cal in the first of three matches she played Friday.

Growing up with twin older brothers, though, Carter’s never been one to shy away from a challenge. She spoke with USTA.com following her second-round win Friday:

USTA.com: What kind of pressure does a match point using no-ad scoring bring?

Hayley Carter: It’s a tremendous amount of pressure, especially in a tight match. No-ad points can change the momentum completely of a game and of an entire match. So it’s definitely a lot of pressure. But I think it’s made me better over the last couple years, just going out and knowing that every point is so important. If I’m up 40-love, I take it just as seriously as if it’s 40-30 because I know it can flip just like that.

USTA.com: Where did you grow up?

Hayley Carter: I was actually born in Chattanooga, Tenn. I moved to Columbia, S.C., when I was pretty young, and then I moved to Hilton Head, specifically for tennis, when I was 11.

USTA.com: When did you first start playing tennis?

Hayley Carter: I first started when I was 6 years old. I fumbled into the sport. Nobody in my family really played. We were bored one summer, and my brothers bought all kinds of stuff at Wal-Mart, and one of them happened to be tennis racquets and a tennis ball. We went to our neighborhood (courts), and I picked it up pretty quickly. I went to one of those high school camps, and from there it’s history.

USTA.com: At what point did you realize that you wanted to focus on playing tennis?

Hayley Carter: Honestly, (laughs) I was pretty good from the start. I think that’s why I liked it so much. It was the only sport that I could beat my brothers in. They’re six years older than me – twins. Tennis, it was more mental than about size or anything like that, so I loved it from the start. Then, when I was 8, I won Little Mo Nationals. Then I won it at 9, and I won it at 10. And then when I was 11, I moved to Hilton Head for tennis.

USTA.com: You had twin brothers who were six years older than you? That had to contribute to your being a competitor.

Hayley Carter: For sure. I was the most competitive little 6-year-old in the world against my 12-year-old brothers. Growing up, we were so competitive in every single sport, and I didn’t care that they were boys. I didn’t care that they were six years older. I wanted to beat them in everything. And I think it carried over and made me so much better in tennis, and life, and everything.

USTA.com: When you moved to Hilton Head, where did you start training?

Hayley Carter: Smith-Stearns Tennis Academy, with Stan Smith and Billy Stearns and B.J. Stearns.

USTA.com: At 11 years old, did you know who Stan Smith was?

Hayley Carter: I kind of had an idea. My parents knew him, for sure. What happened was one of my best friends in the world, Ashley Kitchen, she went down there. She was from there, and I was best friends with her just from tournaments, and she convinced me to come down one summer. And I just begged my parents. It was kind of in reverse: a lot of parents send their kids to tennis academies; I begged my parents to go to one. I was so fortunate to have two amazing, supportive parents, and they let me move down there.

USTA.com: Did you have success there from the start?

Hayley Carter: Well, the move to Hilton Head just was for fun, but my coach at the time, Billy Stearns – he is the most positive person in the world. He tells you you can be No. 1 in the world when you’re 12 years old, so he was really encouraging me to play professional tennis and to pursue that, and as soon as I got into that mindset, it was lights out for me, and I played amazing and just developed so quickly.

USTA.com: Were you always going to go to college?

Hayley Carter: Honestly, I wasn’t planning on it. I never played that many tournaments. I had an unusual junior career – I played a little bit of everything. But I’d played a few pro tournaments when I was about 15. I think I made the quarterfinals of a $25,000 event, finals of a $10,000, semis of a $10,000, all kind of in a row – playing great. And I was thinking that, “I want to just keep doing this for the next couple years,” and I’m thinking, “I’m going to go pro.”

And [then] I rolled my ankle at the Orange Bowl that year, very, very badly. I was out for about four to five months, and that was during the recruiting period. (North Carolina head coach) Brian Kalbas, my coach, he talked to me every single day I was injured. Every single day he was encouraging me, sending me emails, checking in on me. I got back, wasn’t playing that well, and just having him there that whole time and how supportive he was made me want to come to UNC.

USTA.com: And you stayed all four years. What have you learned about yourself?

Hayley Carter: I’m a senior. I’m an old lady. Coming into college, I was just so … tennis-tennis-tennis. I thought of myself as a tennis player first. I think Brian is an amazing coach, but even more than that, I think he’s an amazing person. He taught me that it’s more important to be a good person than to be a good tennis player, and he kind of just opened my world to everything – to academics, to being a good person, volunteering, all those things. I think that’s the No. 1 thing, and along the way, finding myself as a person, I think I found myself even more as a tennis player. And I’ve been able to enjoy tennis more because, in the end, I know it’s just a game. It’s something that I’m passionate about, but win or lose, I’m still going to be the same person.

USTA.com: What are your interests outside of tennis now?

Hayley Carter: I am about the nerdiest person in the world. I am an economics major and information systems minor. I do pretty well in school, and I really enjoy that stuff. I do a national economics competition – I volunteer, I kind of helped create that at UNC. It’s in Washington, D.C. I’m an undergrad teaching assistant for econ classes. I am definitely the prototypical nerd.

USTA.com: So if tennis doesn’t work out, you have a career in economics to fall back on?

Hayley Carter: I’m actually doing a little bit of an internship over winter break with Wells Fargo in their headquarters in Charlotte, but they know I want to pursue tennis after college, and I want to pursue it as long as I’m making adequate improvements and enjoying it. After that, I can settle down into something else, but I want to play as long as I can.

USTA.com: What do you like to do for fun?

Hayley Carter: Just every day, normal stuff. My teammates are my best friends. Jessie Aney is one of my best friends in the world, and I go over to her place every day and bake something. We bake, we play other sports. We do volleyball right outside our dorm with the other students. Just always something. Just hanging out, trying to be around people as much as possible.