The sound of a Kaitlyn McCarthy forehand seems to echo throughout the Cary Tennis Center, where the seeds of a champion are being planted.
"I picked up the raquet when I was 3 or 4," McCarthy said.
Still, it took Mother Nature's help to kickstart her quest.
"It was a rainy day and I was really bored, so I went into the closest and I saw this tennis racquet and I was like, 'Dad, what is this'? And he was like, 'It's a tennis racquet. I'll show you how to play.'"
Dad must have been some kind of teacher, because now, more than a decade later, McCarthy is the No. 1 ranked 16-and-under player in the nation.
Jake Lester, her coach for more than 5 years, said he could tell when she was 8 that there was something special about her.
"Her mental toughness, her forehand and just her overall thinking on the court," Lester said. "She's very aware of what's going on and what she needs to do to win the match."
Four months ago, McCarthy won a national championship in Mobile, Ala. Playing up in age group, she topped the defending champion, winning the 18-and-under title in three sets.
"It was amazing," McCarthy said. "It was the greatest feeling."
But with success comes sacrifice. McCarthy's grueling practice and tournament schedule makes home-schooling a necessity.
"It was a sacrifice, absolutely, but we think it's worth it," said her mother, Beverly Harris. "Kaitlyn however, loves school, so it was a tough decision for her, a tough decision for my husband because of the social aspects that she'd be missing."
Kaitlyn McCarthy said she misses birthday parties with friends and sleepovers and some of the normal rituals of high school life.
But she is not complaining. It's the path she has chosen and the direction she wants to go. The sophomore has her sights set on college, and then a professional career.
Her coach has a vision of where she could be one day – playing in Grand Slams and having a long pro career.
And to think that trek began with a bored child on a rainy day.
"When I started I didn't think I'd be as successful as I am today," she said.
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