This story originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Gator Country Magazine. VIP subscribers to GatorCountry.com receive the magazine in the mail every month, and copies are available throughout Gainesville.
By Chris Lee
Florida junior Frank Carleton is set to compete for the Gators after transferring from Wake Forest, where he played in the No. 1 and 2 singles positions.
GC: Have you been enjoying your time at Florida?
Carleton: It’s a dream school for an athlete. You get everything right at your fingertips and all the resources you could possibly need. The competition— everyone on the team is really good. Everybody wants to do well. It is a very good atmosphere.
GC: How did you get started in tennis?
Carleton: My dad did; he teaches tennis. My bother and sister both graduated from Duke. I grew up playing. I started playing around the time I was three or four years old.
GC: When you were at Wake Forest, did you and your brother who plays at Duke ever compete against each other?
Carleton: As far as playing matches against each other, we’ve only played one. We were playing Duke at the ACC championships. I lost in three sets, 6-4 in the third. I was winning and won my first set 6-0 and was up in the second, but lost. It was a bad match; I lost the whole match for the team.
GC: You were also on the Junior Davis Cup team, what was that like?
Carleton: It was awesome. Playing out of the country for any reason is really cool, but especially playing for your country. We went to Canada first for the qualifier, and then we went to Italy for the whole World Cup thing. It was probably one of the most fun times I’ve had playing tennis. Besides playing at the Junior US Open, that was probably my favorite moment on a tennis court.
GC: Why the decision to play collegiate tennis instead of going pro?
Carleton: I don’t know. My family has always had an emphasis on education. My dad was teaching tennis and was also a schoolteacher. My mom was a schoolteacher; so education was always emphasized. (It’s) always been a goal of mine to graduate from college. It crossed my mind a little bit, but I was never really there enough to really go pro straight out of high school. Few people rarely are. There was no doubt my mind about going to college.
GC: What is your major?
GC: Is your goal after college to go pro?
Carleton: I’m definitely going to give it a shot. There is no reason not to. These two years I have left—I started in summer B—I’ve been training as hard as I can. So these next two years are preparation for that.
GC: Why did you decided to transfer from Wake Forest? Was there anything that caused that?
Carleton: Yeah, there was. Wake Forest is a great school. I really enjoyed my time there, but you know, some things happened partly on me making choices that don’t coincide with Wake Forest. The move kind of became impossible to avoid.
GC: Why the decision to choose UF? Were there other schools?
Carleton: There were some other schools on the backburner. Florida definitely was the first. (Head coach) Andy (Jackson) was the first person I contacted. I called him right away when I knew that I was going to transfer. The thing about getting into Wake Forest was I didn’t get in until about January because I did two years of regular high school, then did online school. I didn’t graduate until October when I should have graduated in June.
GC: What was it like playing in the No. 1 position at Wake Forest as a freshman?
Carleton: Freshman year I did really well. I think after my first ten matches I got ranked like top twenty in the country. Then last year I got injured and got pneumonia. It didn’t go as well as I would have liked.
GC: Do you prefer doubles or singles?
Carleton: I’ve always been more of a singles player before I came to college. But, these last two-and-a-half years or so I’ve been playing a lot of doubles. I really like doubles and I’ve gotten a lot better at doubles too just from playing here—just understanding doubles strategy and knowing what you have to do to win. I would consider myself a multifaceted tennis player.
GC: What is your singles game, are there any pro players that you watch or try to emulate?
Carleton: I don’t try to go and completely copy someone’s game. My game would probably be a baseliner—an aggressive baseliner. I come to net when I can, but that’s not usually my main goal to try and get to net. If there is anybody I’d like to play like, it would probably be Djokovic because he is really solid on the ground and he comes to net when he has to.
GC: Djokovic’s return game is amazing too.
Carleton: That’s one of the better shots in my game, too. My return and backhand
GC: On that note, what are the things that you bring to the UF team this year that they didn’t have last year?
Carleton: To give them things they didn’t have last year is going to be hard. They lost Alex Lacroix who was consistently ranked Top Ten in the country. I’m going to bring a lot of excitement, a lot of spirit, a lot of fun, hard work and hopefully some wins, more importantly.
GC: What do you like to do off the court?
Carleton: I like to read a lot of books, riding my bike, doing outdoor things like fishing going on the boat, playing video like Call of Duty — normal things.
GC: What books do you typically read?
Carleton: Fiction. I really like classics. In Tulsa, there was this really cool bookstore. It was kind of like a mystics bookstore; it had stuff on hypnosis. I got this interesting book called the Smoking Gods. Probably one of my favorite books is 1984.
GC: What do you think you need fix in your game?
Carleton: Improving my fitness. Starting in the summer, I was in really bad shape. It’s been getting progressively better, but it’s not that easy to get in really good shape, apparently. That is definitely number one. I would really like to get my serve better. I would really like to make it a serious weapon and not have work as hard on my service game. Also, my transition game—moving from deeper in the court, maybe more of a defensive position to taking a short ball and come into net.
GC: Is it more difficult for you because you are 5-foot-8, not one of the taller guys?
Carleton: Yeah, I don’t have a ten-foot wingspan, but hopefully with anticipation I can make up for that. Hitting a good approach shot too, not limited, just a little small.
GC: What your favorite thing about the game of tennis?
Carleton: I really like the rhythm. I like hitting the ball. I like how it goes back and forth and you can put different spins. We were talking about this the other day because we were playing FIFA (video game) and there was a shoot out, and we asked what a shoot out would be for tennis. There probably can’t be a shoot out in tennis because there is not just one way to win a point. That’s one of my favorite things about tennis. You really have to get creative in order to win points. Some people just hit the ball really hard or play a certain game type. But, if you watch the good players, they adapt a lot. I like the rhythm and use your mind.
GC: Do you struggle with mental aspect?
Carleton: Sometimes my mind wanders a bit or loses concentration. Maybe, maybe I let my emotions get to me, but for the most part when I’m playing I win matches mentally. There gets to the point where you play enough and you’ve been in a situation enough to know how to act. You really have to keep a tight rein on your emotions and play the next point. It might have hurt me this past week in Tulsa. Overall, my mind definitely gives me an advantage on the tennis court.
GC: Was it your dad that trained you all those years, or did you go to an academy?
Carleton: Eventually, I ended up going to Evert for a year to train with the USTA. That was when my brother went to college. Up until then I had a built-in practice partner. The competition just with my brother, there really was no need to go anywhere. We did move down to Florida. I live in Naples now, originally born and raised in Philadelphia.
GC: You’ve had quite the trek. Where was your favorite place to live?
Carleton: I would take Florida in the wintertime and Philadelphia in the summer time.
GC: Anything else as a tennis player?
Carleton: I really want to win. I enjoy winning. I imagine most people feel the same way, but you’d be surprised sometimes. I like to have fun on the court.
GC: Are you more a match player than a practice guy?
Carleton: There is something that triggers in a match that just gets better.
GC: Anything else about you that people need to know?
Carleton: I’m really proud to be a Gator and to get the opportunity to be here. It’s sounds kind of cliché, but I’m 100 percent serious about that. The opportunity I’ve been given to come from Wake after everything that has happened, it is truly a blessing.