HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — This year’s US Tennis Association girls 16U clay court national championship brings girls from 28 states to Huntsville for a week of singles and doubles action. But only two out of the 224 competitors are from the state of Alabama.
Gabby Barrera is one of them. The rising sophomore at Montgomery Academy made the trip up from the state capital city and, although she’s one of only two relative locals in the field, she’s actually relished the chance to face new foes, including today’s challenger, Daniella Chica from Miami, Fla.
“I love playing people I don't know because it's kind of like a little game,” she said. “It's like, when I was going in against her, I was just kind of trying to figure out, like, 'how's her forehand? How's her backhand?' and I realized, both of them pretty much were the same.”
Chica is a four-star prospect and top-20 player in her state according to Tennis Recruiting Network. She is one of 32 other Floridians in the tournament - the second-highest representation from any state, only behind California’s 34. Barrera and Chica split the first two sets of their match. Barrera was able to cause Chica to let four times in the third set, but the Floridian finished it off 6-4.
Although Barrera finds fun in the novelty of her matchups, she is thankful for the chance to compete much closer to home. According to Barrera’s USTA profile, she’s competed in 13 other events - both singles and doubles - in five states this year so far.
“I love to play in my state because I go out of the state a lot to kind of get the feel of travel and playing in different places and in different time zones,” she said. Even a simple trip one state over comes with a toll. “Because sometimes I'll be on, like, a Georgia time zone in my mind when I get back from Georgia,” she said with a laugh.
This event is of particular interest to her because of a comfort playing on clay surfaces.
“All I do is practice on clay every day,” she said. “Even if I'm playing in a hardcourt tournament, I only practice on clay because it's clay, the ball bounces different so when you're on a hard court, it actually feels easier because it hits right where you know it's gonna hit.”
Barrera will join forces with Aspen Young of Niceville, FL in the doubles bracket later Sunday evening. Tennis Recruiting Network lists Young as the 73rd-best player in Florida. Barrera said she will bring the experience from her singles round as well as her long history of clay practice.
“The clay can clump up and I don't really mind that; it kind of becomes strategy as well,” she said. “If the clay is clumped up, you see how to play differently.”
Tennis continues all week at the Athletic Club Alabama, as both the singles and doubles brackets work their way to the finals at the end of the week, barring any weather-related delays.