COVINGTON, Ga. — It was just two short years ago when Abbey Grace Venham, stepped onto the tennis court for the Eastside Eagles for the first time as a freshman phenom.
Despite it being her first year with the Lady Eagles’ tennis squad, she was no stranger to the court. Having already competed in several tournaments sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association, she was already being hailed as a big-time prospect and a leader among her peers.
Fast forward two years from that moment, Venham is now a junior leader on a very solid lady Eagles team. However, those two years featured a hiatus from the ultra competitive USTA circuit.
That hiatus ended this past weekend, when she competed in her first USTA tournament in over two years, earning a third place finish out of 16 competitors.
“It felt crazy,” Venham said of her USTA comeback. “But at the same time, it was like riding a bike, and I just tried to keep my head in the zone no matter who I was playing or what time or how cold or hot it was.”
A third-place finish is no easy task considering her absence from these tournaments was such a lengthy one. But even more impressive is the fact that she only signed up for the tournament to go with her friend Will Elbert, a standout on Eastside’s boys tennis team.
But that reasoning was not surprising. It would take more than her own competitive spirit to get back on to the USTA scene she used to compete in so regularly.
“I started to not have fun with competitive tournaments anymore, and that made me lose my passion,” she said. “But I love the game of tennis and I always will. I just didn’t want to play USTA tournaments anymore.”
So, much like she did when stepping onto the court for Eastside for the first time as a freshman, the unsure feeling of how things would go not only set in for her, but for her family as well.
“This could be ugly, or it could be the beginning of something amazing,” her mother, Angie Blair, said on Twitter prior to the start of the tournament.
Quickly, it became the latter for Venham as she breezed by her first two opponents before meeting a familiar Region 4-AAAA foe in Ansley Carpenter, the No. 1 singles player from Woodward Academy.
She would end up losing 6-1 and 6-3 to Carpenter, and even though she impressively finished in that third-place spot, Venham felt that she could have performed better.
“I was fairly satisfied with third place, but I do think I could’ve put up a better fight during my match with Carpenter,” she said.
Motivated as ever, Venham will meet Carpenter once again in region play after spring break, and she is going to use the week off from school to train really hard for a chance at some payback.
And while the comeback was sweet and encouraging, Venham will keep her tournament entries at a minimum while school tennis and other endeavors fill her plate.
“I think tournaments are going to be pretty occasional for me just because I have so much going on right now, and I don’t want to lose my passion again,” she said. “But I just might start to play one a month. Maybe.”