The 20-year-old just finished a career year after missing part of 2008 and '09 with a wrist injury that required surgery. Once she was healthy, her world ranking jumped more than 550 spots to 134th.
Hampton, an Alabama native who has stayed with the family of Walton tennis player Emily Zabor as she has trained at Olde Towne Athletic Club in east Cobb, was favored to beat Lauren Davis as the No. 2 seed in the first round of the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs, but she had to settle for a 7-5, 7-5 loss Friday afternoon at the Racquet Club of the South.
Hampton came out aggressive against Davis and built a 5-2 lead in the first set, but unforced errors got the best of her and she went on to lose nine straight games before rallying from 5-1 down in the second.
"I served for it in the first set, so I definitely had my chances," Hampton said. "(Davis is) a tough competitor and has had a bunch of nice wins recently. I haven't played in over a month because of a stomach injury."
Hampton's ranking soared this year after she won four International Tennis Federation tournaments and made it into the finals in four others. Losing Friday wasn't how she wanted to end 2010, but she has every reason to be optimistic about 2011, if she can stay healthy.
"Physically, she's been working hard to get ready for next year. She's getting physically healthy," said Hampton's coach, Jason Parker, a tennis pro at Olde Towne. "Next year, she'll be able to play in most of the main tour events. She needs a full year of staying healthy and playing at the highest level."
Hampton played her best tennis over the summer when she won back-to-back tournaments in Boston and Grapevine, Texas. Her success was good enough to earn her a wild-card entrant into last summer's U.S. Open, where she took No. 22 seed Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez to a third set in the first round before eventually falling short.
Hampton had to deal with a recurring stomach injury after the U.S. Open but managed to win another tournament in Redding, Calif., and made the finals at another ITF tourney in Grapevine.
She's known to be an aggressive baseliner with a huge forehand and also possesses a strong serve and consistent volley. Hampton's a difficult player to beat when she's clicking, but when she's not, unforced errors tend to mount.
In Friday's qualifier, her play was inconsistent.
Hampton became erratic after building a 5-2 first-set lead. When Davis held to make it 5-3, Hampton quickly took a 30-0 lead on serve before committing four straight unforced errors to lose the game.
Hampton didn't win another game until she was trailing 4-0 in the second set.
Davis, who trains at tennis great Chris Evert's academy in Florida, rarely missed a shot during her nine-game winning streak, forcing Hampton to make the mistake.
"She runs a lot of balls down," Hampton said. "I should have probably come in more. I just haven't played a match in awhile. Your shot selection suffers a little bit when you haven't played."
Hampton returned to her early first-set form when she trailed 5-1 in the second and managed to tie the set at 5-5. She had a shot at taking a 6-5 lead but couldn't limit the unforced errors.
"Like me, she's very competitive, and losing isn't anything she likes," Parker said. "I have to give (Davis) credit. She can frustrate players."