by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
It seemed inevitable that Courtney Mudge would become a tennis player.
“My whole family plays - my brother, my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles,” she said.
Mudge is following footsteps but making some impressive markings of her own.
She is a freshman at Community School of Davidson and unbeaten as the team’s No. 1 singles and doubles player. That’s not surprising, because Mudge is one the state’s best year-round tournament players.
She’s ranked 18th among North Carolina players in the U.S. Tennis Association’s 14-and-under division.
Her brother, Robbie, a freshman at N.C. State, won two state championships at Winston-Salem Reynolds High and was one of the nation’s top recruits. He’d go to tournaments and practice, and little sister Courtney would tag along.
Soon enough, she was pounding the ball with the same ferocity.
“I hit it really hard,” Mudge said. “I can be consistent, but I don’t like being consistent. I like hitting a winner. That’s how I play. My brother started playing when he was about 7, and I’ve watched him since I was 3 or 4. I’ve been brought up in tennis.”
“He’s my inspiration. I want to be as good as him.”
She’s well on her way.
Mudge plays tournaments throughout the South and last month won the 16-and-under division at the Weddington Summer Junior Classic.
This fall, she’s mixing in playing on the Community School of Davidson team, which is in its inaugural season. The roster features all freshmen and sophomores.
Mudge’s close friend, Caroline Alexander, is her doubles partner.
“It’s a group of nice girls,” said Julie Mudge, Courtney’s mother. “There is so much pressure in individual tennis that when you’re in a team event, it’s such a nice feeling.
It’s fun to represent the school. We’re still small and growing.”
Mudge’s talent will help speed that process.
“She has worked at it since she was very little, in an academy situation,” coach Crystal Hamilton said. “She’s very serious, she’s in shape and she can hit.”
Hamilton also coached Mudge on the middle school team, where play was co-ed. Hamilton’s son, a year older than Courtney, quickly accepted that there was no stigma losing to a girl.
“If he got a few games off of her, he thought that was a good day,” Hamilton said, laughing.
Said Mudge: “I like to play on a team because you get to cheer for your friends, and they cheer for you. It’s good to be in a group, not just one person. And you can play it your whole life. My grandparents are, like, 80.”
Mudge’s mom is a teaching pro at Lake Norman Tennis Academy in Mooresville, where the family lives. Courtney trains there.
Julie Mudge said her daughter doesn’t need to worry about her brother’s shadow in the tennis world. Yes, he’s inspiration, but Courtney’s accomplishments are her own.
“She’s always been shy, but inside I think she understands that she works hard and she’s a good player,” Julie said.
Mudge also plays on a USTA 14-and-under team (boys and girls) in Mooresville that won its local league, the state competition and finished second in the USTA Southern sectional. The squad qualified for the national tournament as a wild card and will travel to play in Phoenix, Ariz., in October.
Mudge’s game is mostly power, honed from exposure to her older brother’s game. A tennis ball coming off her racquet definitely makes a different sound than her teammates’.
“She plays like a boy, because that’s all she’s seen,” Mudge’s mom said. “She sees this top-level boys tennis, which is knocking the cover off the ball, even when they’re tiny kids.
“She’s never known any different. She steps in and hits the ball.”