Hayley Carter has enjoyed the benefits of playing a tournament at home.
"It's really nice. It's quite comfortable," the Smith Stearns graduate and North Carolina signee said. "I love that all the people come out, and I certainly don't have any trouble finding someone to hit with, all the coaches who are around."
Carter is one match away from a championship at home after defeating eighth-seeded Hiroko Kuwata of Japan, 6-4, 6-3, to advance to Sunday's singles final of the Head/First Federal Women's $10,000 USTA Pro Circuit Tournament at the Van Der Meer Tennis Center on Hilton Head Island.
Carter, one of the most prolific junior players in South Carolina -- she has 16 state championships, eight singles and eight doubles -- entered the tournament as a wild card. On Saturday, she eliminated the final seeded player from the field.
"I played pretty well," Carter said. "(Kuwata) hit the ball hard. I was just trying to be consistent."
Carter will face unseeded Yana Koroleva in the 9 a.m. final.
Koroleva defeated qualifier Michelle Sammons 6-4, 6-3 in the second semifinal.
"It was a little rough in the second set, but I finally put it away," Koroleva said. "I'd never seen her play before. She hit some nice shots."
Koroleva, who just completed her sophomore season at Clemson, said she hasn't played in a pro final in almost two years. She has faced Carter before, though, defeating her in the qualifying round of a $25,000 event in Raleigh, N.C., two years ago, when Carter said she was coming off an ankle injury.
"She comes to the net a lot, hits a lot of slices," Koroleva recalled of Carter's game. "But it's been a long time."
"My game has gotten better all around," Carter said. "I feel like I've gotten better in every aspect. It's just about being consistent."
FRILLING AND MUELLER WIN DOUBLES TITLE
Having already won the first set from Hayley Carter and Josie Kuhlman, 6-3, the top-seeded doubles team of Kristy Frilling and Alexandra Mueller almost saw its run to the title derailed by Frilling's balky back.
While playing at the net during the sixth game of the second set, Frilling went to the ground for the second time in the match. After taking a few moments to compose herself, Frilling and Mueller won the point and the game to even the second set at 3.
Frilling had been in obvious discomfort for much of the match, and it was getting progressively worse.
But after dropping the next game, Frilling called for the trainer during the changeover.
"I tweaked it last Saturday," said Frilling, who admitted had she not gotten treatment, she likely would not have been able to go on.
But she did, and Frilling and Mueller won three straight games to close out the 6-3, 6-4 win.
"It's tough," said Mueller in reference to Frilling's injury. "You want to take as many balls at the net as you can and shorten the points as much as you can. But you can't do it all. You have to play smart."
Mueller praised Carter and Kuhlman, calling them a "talented team."
"We would put the ball where we wanted to," Mueller said, "And they would go and get it."
Frilling and Mueller said they'd definitely be back next year to defend the title.
"It's not often you get to come somewhere to play a tournament that's more like a vacation," Frilling said.
ITF Women's Circuit -- Head/First Federal Women's $10,000
A USTA Pro Circuit event; At Van Der Meer Tennis Center, Hilton Head Island
Singles -- Semifinals
Hayley Carter (USA) def. Hiroko Kuwata (JPN)  6-4, 6-3
Yana Koroleva (RUS) def. Michelle Sammons (RSA) 6-4, 6-3
Doubles -- Final
Kristy Frilling (USA)/Alexandra Mueller (USA)  def. Hayley Carter (USA)/Josie Kuhlman (USA) 6-3, 6-4
Singles -- Championship
Hayley Carter (USA) vs. Yana Koroleva (RUS), 9 a.m., Court 8