Tennis Spotlight: Hayley Carter, Former UNC Star, Now WTA Star

Hayley Carter has been on the tennis court since she was 6 years old. She has been training at Smith Stearns since the age of 11 and has seen success at all levels. She had a tremendous career at UNC, breaking many records and had notable achievements as well. She is now playing on the WTA Tour and is ranked 35 in doubles. Her success does not end on the tennis court. Hayley has also coached at the collegiate level and hopes to return to coaching college tennis after her career. She is also working on her masters degree. When talking with Hayley, her positivity and determination to succeed was contagious. In this interview we talked about many things such as her junior career, collegiate story, injuries, coaching aspirations, 2020 successes, 2021 goals, and the impact tennis has had on her life. If you are interested in following Hayley’s results on tour you can check them out here. If you want to see her college records and impressive achievements click here.

  1. At what age did you fall in love with the sport?

I started when I was 6 years old and it was love at first sight. I could hit the ball right away and beat up on my brothers. The first camp I went to I might have fallen in love with it.

  1. What prompted your family’s decision to train at Smith Stearns at age 11?

My parents did not know much about the sport. One of my close friends convinced me to come to Smith Stearns for a week. I realized how much commitment it took and that’s when we switched to the academy. I grew up in Columbia, SC so it was 2.5 hours away from Hilton Head so it was not too far.

  1. How did that better prepare you for college?

Being around players that all had the same vision of playing high-level tennis was important. Every day I was with a group of kids that wanted to play college tennis and the coaches knew what it took to get us to that level. They trained us a certain way, but more importantly, they supported us and guided us. The coaches instilled a belief in me, and that’s why I was successful as a freshman.

  1. Did you ever feel burned out?

Until I moved to Smith Stearns I played every sport. I did not have my first feeling of burnout until I got injured when I was 16. I was out for 4 months without playing at all. In my sophomore year of college, I had a similar feeling. I feel like it is inevitable when you do something every day for your whole life. You can always come back to the sport though when you look back at that little kid playing enjoying the sport for the first time. It is important to have people that remind you why you love the sport too. Go visit them!

  1. The recruiting process is often stressful for many high school athletes. Can you share your recruiting process?

One of the first letters I got in the mail was a letter from UNC. It was a handwritten letter and he showed me what he saw in me and how much I could help his program. During the recruiting process, I rolled my ankle and two coaches continued to talk to me and check in on my recovery. In that low moment, I had support from them and that made it so special. He emphasized family which was important to me.

  1. Did you see college tennis as a route for you?

I had that pro mentality growing up. It was not until I had that 4-month injury when I thought about playing college tennis. I did not see it as my personal path. I was doing well and then I rolled my ankle. I also got introduced to players who made that transition from college to pro tennis successfully. My mentality towards college tennis changed each year. By the time I was a senior in college, I did not want to leave. 

  1. What was your favorite on-court memory at UNC?

I have two. When we won the ACC tournament when I was a junior and when I was a freshman we beat Stanford to get to the NCAA Finals. My coach was jumping around in the huddle and he never did that. It was so special.

  1. What was your key to success during your college career? 168-25 in singles and 126-23 in doubles.

I had confidence coming into college and I was having a lot of fun. In my junior year, I had a coach tell me you should never lose. So I would tell myself “ysnl”. It was not that I was being cocky, it is just a mentality and confidence. No matter how I was playing or feeling I could win the match.

  1. How did you prepare during school breaks to be ready to compete when you arrived back on campus?

Summer for me was a bit easier than winter break. I would take 2 weeks off and then get back to training and playing tournaments. Now, there are so many tournaments to play over the summer whether that is ITAS, pro tournaments, or UTRS. Winter break was tough for me because there is no competition, it is cold, and holidays prevent playing. I would talk to resources at UNC and come up with a winter break training regimen to do every day.

  1. You have had to overcome many injuries during your career, how have you dealt with those physically and mentally?

I think I did such a good job in college and saw my recovery time as a competition. If they said I would be out for 3 weeks I would work hard to get my body back in 2 weeks. I also wanted to show my coach I could still win and show them that I was even tougher than they thought I was. Currently, I am struggling with injuries and do not know how to overcome them yet.

  1. Can you talk about your coaching experience and what led to you go pro?

I always wanted to be a coach. When I was a freshman I told my coach I wanted to be a college coach. My coach threw my name out to Columbia when they were looking for a coach. I was talking to about 5 schools before I even graduated from college for a coaching position. Then I played my first pro tournament and I was not happy on court. I did not feel any positive emotions so I decided to go the coaching route. Then about a year into coaching, I realized I wanted to give myself a chance playing on tour. I was telling one of my players to give pro tennis a chance and realized how I could tell her that if I didn’t do it myself. So I had to go and give pro tennis my all. I am loving playing right now and I know it will help my coaching. I have good vibes right now!

Credit: ITA Tennis
  1. Can you talk about the challenges you faced during your first full year on tour in 2019? And, how did you overcome them?

My level since coming back to playing tennis is nowhere near the same. I am trying to get back to that level. Also, in pro tennis the preparation, scheduling, and deciding when to stop playing singles was tough. When Navigating those challenges I talked to my inner circle and they helped guide me and gave me advice. Do not be afraid to ask questions and get advice!

  1. You won 7 tournaments during your first full year on tour. How much confidence will that give you going into 2020?

It gave me so much confidence. We went to the $125k in Newport this year and we went in as the #1 seed. Strasburg was a WTA 250 event and my partner and I played it just to practice before the French Open. It is surreal to see how far we have come. We used to never get into these tournaments and now we are getting in seeded.

Credit: Oracle Challenger Series
  1. Do you plan to stick to doubles or continue to play singles also?

I started to stick to doubles when I came back from a hip injury and played doubles while my body healed in the spring of 2019. I had three really good results during this time and my ranking just shot up to around 100 in the world. I had some more health issues and was out for 2-3 months and I came back in the summer and tried to play singles. I was winning every tournament in doubles and making quarters in singles. I realized I did not want to play tennis forever and I knew that if I stuck to singles it would be a longer path to get to the top. I knew I was always going to have health challenges too. So I had to decide to just stick to doubles.

  1. How have you been able to enjoy areas of life outside of tennis during the pandemic? Do you think that is important?

It brings me back to 16 year old me who had 4 months off of tennis. I got so used to seeing friends and family at home. I have had a life outside of tennis during covid and it is nice but it takes away from my tennis game at the same time. I love to be on the court due to the lack of tournaments but I also love spending time with my family and friends. I have a perfect balance right now.

  1. 2021 is approaching. What are some tennis goals that you have? 

From a results standpoint, I want to break into the top 25. What is most important though is to enjoy my time on the court this year. Due to my injuries and the pressure, I put on myself I did not enjoy the matches or process of it in 2020. I could have enjoyed it more. So my biggest goal in 2021 is to enjoy it. 

  1. Do you plan to stick with one partner during 2021?

Yes, we plan to stick with one partner for the year. Although when Luisa plays singles a few weeks I will play with someone else. It is super important to play with one partner although playing with other people is helpful too. It allows you to work on different aspects of your game you would not usually need to do.

  1. How has tennis shaped you? In 3 words?

Resilience, Relationships, Confidence.

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