Welcome to Meet the Player Mondays, featuring interviews with our players.
For our first interview, we bring you SAFIYA CARRINGTON. We talked at ACTA home base in Amherst, Massachusetts in late October, just as Safiya was about to leave for the South Carolina ITF.
Birthday: June 23, 2001
How long have you been playing tennis? 11 years, since age 3!
Do you play other sports? I used to play basketball and soccer
What do you like to do besides play tennis? I like to hang out with friends and play music. These days I like the Buddhist Monk station and some other remix stations for things like Odessa, Skrillex, and Justin Bieber remixes.
You had an eventful summer just now… Yes, I did! I went to Aruba, Jamaica, Miami, and southern Indiana. Aruba and Jamaica were ITF Juniors Tournaments. Indiana was a Pro Tournament, a 10K, so it gives you WTA points. And I was in Miami training for a little while at the Bill Adams International Tennis Academy in Pembroke Pines. Mr. Adams is a really good family friend and I sometimes train travel with his Academy when I go to ITFs. It was a great experience! I got to hit with a lot of different players and see a lot of friends.
When you go to all these places, do you know everyone there? Well, sometimes you don’t know so many people at first, but then of course you end up making friends and it’s really fun to be with them. It’s nice because even though we’re from different countries, we get to see each other on the circuit.
At 14, are you on the younger side at these events? Well, you can start playing ITFs at 13, right up to the year you turn 19, but I’d say the average age is 17 or so, so yes, I’m on the younger side overall.
When you’re at a tournament, what’s your routine like? Is there anything you do to get ready for games? I like to listen to music and I usually do stretches and visualizations — visualizations are especially helpful to see what you’re going to do before you go out on the court to do it — and I do swings and figure 8s and other movements that have to do with what I’m going to do on the court.
Do you take any special tools with you for when you travel for games? Not really. If it’s not too hard to pack them, I’ll take some Indian Clubs to swing, but mostly I use two racquets to do my swinging routine.
How many racquets do you have? A lot! Probably about 10. They’re Wilson Blades 18×20. I string them at 52 and I hybrid it so I use a soft string in the crosses and a poly hard string in the main because my arm is very sensitive. The soft string is actually kind of firm and the poly gives the racquet a lot of play and control.
Is there downtime at the tournaments? Well, there’s play, practice, homework, dinner, and then basically you just do relaxing things, whatever works for you. Some people buy candy, some people want to be in a group, some people need to be alone.
Do you and your coach do post-game analysis? Yes, definitely. When my coach is there we always go over what I’ve done well, and what I could have done better. My coach has an especially good memory of important points, so we go over a lot of stuff.
That’s a lot of kinesiotape I see on your shoulder… I love KT tape. It’s my life! Usually I just tape the muscle I’ve had some troubles with. Right now it’s my shoulder. The tape kind of soothes it and releases pressure from the muscle. It’s not restrictive like a brace. I have a great physical therapist, a sports specialist who has worked with a lot of young athletes, but I put on my own KT tape.
So, what’s coming up for you this Fall? I’m going to South Carolina this Saturday, to another ITF tournament. And then, I’m not sure but I might be playing the Orange Bowl Junior Championships. Orange Bowl is probably the biggest junior tournament in the world for ages. It’s down in Florida in early December, on clay. If I’m not playing there, I’ll be doing a tournament in Panama.
Do you like playing on clay? Yes, I enjoy clay a lot. It’s slower than other surfaces, which at first may not seem like my style, but I like it because the ball sits and I can use a broad variety of strokes and angles and spins. It’s softer on your body, too, which is nice. The USTA is encouraging more clay tournaments lately so that Americans are ready for different surfaces when they play in tournaments.
Do you have tennis idols? Well, I don’t like to use the word idol, but yes definitely people that I like to watch and that I look up to. Serena, of course. I think she’s probably one of the best players ever, man or woman. I like Anna Ivanovic, Radwanska. I like watching all the pros, really. I like to see the variety of games styles and what I can learn from them.
What do you like about tennis, anyway? It’s a big part of my life, and it’s always been there, so it’s hard to say! But for kids in general, tennis teaches a lot of problem solving and other skills like how to act and react quickly on the spot. Also coordination. And it’s nice that it’s an individual sport, so you can just think about yourself and what you need to do, as opposed to a team sport (which I do love, too!).
Do you do anything special in the lead-up to going away to a tournament? I like to run really focused practices. And I like to play as many points as I can to practice what I want to do in a match situation.
How do you decide what to work on each day? In general, my coach and I talk about what we want to work on in the car on the way to practice. It’s kind of symbiotic. I say what I want to work on and he describes what he wants me to work on, and we kind of mix it together and do some of each. That’s the thing about having a great coach. When you can trust your coach, that’s the best!
Do you work with other coaches on the road? Yes, I like to work with a variety of coaches when I’m on the road. I feel like there’s a lot for me to learn from their different perspectives and I always like hearing what they recommend and definitely trying it.
How is it having your dad as a coach? Well, I’m used to it, because I’ve never had anything else. But I do see how for other kids, they set up their lesson, they work with their coach for a certain number of hours a day, and then they can go home to their parents and have a certain separation from their coach. For me there is no separation. Your parents want the best for you, they want you to be happy; your coach wants you to succeed and do well and improve in what he’s telling you. So when your dad is your coach, you never really get away from your coach, or your dad!
Longer term goals? By this time next year, I’d like to be playing more pro tournaments.
Thank you, Safiya!