Back in her No. 1 town, Hayley Carter is seeded No. 1 in Women's Open singles and doubles and Mixed Open doubles this weekend in the Tennessee Valley Open Championships at the Manker Patten Tennis Club.
But it's a number she's very used to, and she wears it very well. As a junior at North Carolina she was seeded No. 1 in both singles and doubles in the 2016 NCAA tournament, and she was No. 1 in both categories for two months in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings before winding up No. 2 in singles and No. 3 in doubles.
The 5-foot-11 Carter finished her senior season as the only Atlantic Coast Conference women's tennis player ever to go back to back as league player of the year, league tournament most valuable player and scholar-athlete of the year. She also participated in a national economics competition in the nation's capital and received the Patterson Medal, the most prestigious honor awarded a UNC athlete.
Asked Friday if she would be upset if she didn't complete a triple crown in the TVOC at what is now her home club, Carter would admit only that "I do want to win all three." That was after her two singles wins that day and before a doubles victory with former Furman star Ansley Speaks and a mixed doubles win with former Wisconsin standout Marek Michalicka, the No. 2 seed in Men's Open singles.
Carter is in three semifinals today, hopes to win three finals and will be leaving Sunday for Sumter, South Carolina, and a Futures tournament as the beginning of a Women's Tennis Association Tour career. She will be representing Manker Patten as a touring pro, according to club general manager Ned Caswell, and also will be helping with the Baylor School girls' team.
Carter, who has a 19-13 singles record and 14-8 doubles ledger in pro tournaments from her younger days, played in the Chattanooga City Championships last summer.
While rehabbing from a shoulder injury, she spent this last school year as a women's assistant coach at Oklahoma State, where Michalicka was a men's assistant. This is their first tournament together, but she and Speaks won the South Carolina 18s state doubles title together at the end of simultaneous junior careers in which they were the Palmetto State's best girls' players.
Carter has a record 14 South Carolina championships, nine Southern titles and four USTA national gold balls. But she is a Chattanooga native. Her parents, Sandy and the late Steve Carter, met at Unum, and the family moved to South Carolina when Hayley was 2.
Relatives remained here, particularly on Sandy's side — the Coopers — and the Carters visited Hayley's grandparents "just about every Thanksgiving and Christmas," she related.
During her winter-break trip to Chattanooga as a UNC junior, she was looking for someone to hit with, and Caswell was recommended. The former Furman All-American gave her some coaching, and she lost only one singles dual match the next year and a half.
"That was 7-5 in the third set against Miami, and the (team) match was already clinched," she recalled with a smile.
"After working with her for just a short time, I realized she was a special talent," Caswell said. "We just clicked mentally. It was all about confidence for her, and when she got that extra confidence she could not be stopped."
Soon after that was when she became No. 1 in the country. And soon she was persuading her parents to move back to her native city. Her last season at UNC, she was a Chattanooga girl again.
Praising her competitive nature as well as her strength and athletic ability, Caswell added, "I have no doubt that she has the ability to make a big splash on the WTA Tour. But what she's really known for is that even with her great ability she is respectful of everyone. She is the most considerate elite athlete you will ever meet."
The TVOC open singles competition continued to stay true to seedings Friday in the quarterfinals, where Carter won 6-2, 6-1 over Alee Clayton; No. 2 Carly Briggs defeated Danielle Vines 7-5, 6-3; No. 3 Alba Cortina Pou edged Kyle Moulin 6-4, 6-4; and No. 4 Alory Regina Elorriage Pereira topped Kelly Poggensee-Wei 6-0, 6-2.
For the men, No. 1 Isaiah Strode defeated Paul Gota 6-3, 6-1; Michalicka won 6-1, 6-1 over Andrew Rogers; No. 3 Julian Bradley beat Vincent Rettke 6-0, 6-0; and No. 4 Andres Martin downed Harrison O'Keefe 7-6, 6-1.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.