CARY — Kaitlyn McCarthy knows how to put pressure on people.
The 15-year-old McCarthy lives around the corner from the Cary Tennis Center and she is usually there four to six hours every day, honing the strokes that helped her gain a U.S. Tennis Association 16-and-under No. 1 national ranking and to win the USTA’s spring nationals 18s title last weekend.
Jack Lester, her coach and the head pro of the tennis center’s academy program, said the strongest part of McCarthy’s game is her ability to keep constant mental pressure on her opponents.
“Tennis is the perfect game for her,” Lester said. “She is never going to relent. She is not going to back down. She is not going to give up. She may have lost the first set 6-0 and be trailing 5-0 in the second set and be facing a triple match point, but she still knows in her mind that she is going to win.
“That mindset is rare.”
McCarthy showed that toughness last weekend in Mobile, Ala., where the home-schooled high school freshman took on many of the nation’s best junior players to win the 18s National Spring Championship. She defeated Brooke Austin of Indianapolis, the tournament’s top seed and reigning champion, in the final.
Austin, ranked one or two in 18s in the country, won the first set 7-5, but McCarthy broke Austin’s service in the last game of the second set to win 7-5.
McCarthy broke Austin’s service three times in four games in the final set for a 6-2 victory and the championship.
“To me it comes down to who can execute better,” McCarthy said after returning home. “That’s what it comes down to every time you play at this level. You have to analyze what you need to do and then you have to execute it.
“I want to make it tough to beat me. ”
Most of the elite players in the division have the shots and the physical tools to win, but McCarthy’s relentless approach separates her, Lester said.
“There is no clock, no limit,” he said. “You can’t run out of time. You can always come back. She is very competitive and unbelievably mentally tough. She has an incredible ability to analyze her opponent and keep the pressure on them.”
She has the ability to play in different ways, Lester said. She can serve and volley, crowd the net, stay back and duel from the baseline or a combination.
Whatever her opponent doesn’t want her to do, she can do it.
McCarthy is playing up a division – she is still eligible to play in the 16s – because she wants to continue to develop as a player. Lester said she had accomplished about all she could in her age bracket.
The championship in Mobile was McCarthy’s first national title since she won two national USTA titles in the 12s. She added another 18s championship in Mobile by teaming with Statesville’s Taylor Davidson in doubles.
Davidson, who has signed with Stanford University, and McCarthy beat Sophie Chang of Maryland and Caroline Lampl of Virginia 6-2, 6-4 in the final.
McCarthy took off two days after the tournament, but returned to her daily practice on the courts and her additional conditioning drills Wednesday.
To her, it isn’t work.
“I love this game,” she said.