by John W. Weber
Ashley Weinhold: A Teen Prodigy Passes It Forward
After two decades of dominance by the Big Three (you know who they are) and Serena Williams, a youth movement has permeated professional tennis with several players still in their teens claiming ATP and WTA tournament titles and even competing in Grand Slam finals. Of course, this is not a unique trend. In 1979, Tracy Austin won the US Open at 16 and Boris Becker and Michael Chang later claimed Majors at 17. There have been others. But, still, it is impressive to watch how undaunted this new legion is as they go toe-to-toe with players they idolized growing up.
Ashley Weinhold, a teaching pro at the Austin Tennis Academy in Bee Cave, began swinging a tennis racquet at age two. Less than a decade later she won USTA Nationals at age 11. As an amateur, she played her first pro match at the tender age of 14. Competing well before she could legally drive, drink or vote, Ashley confesses, “Yea, I got crushed.” But exhibiting a champion’s spirit she didn’t stay crushed. She passed on college offers, worked hard on her game, and went onto win three singles titles and 17 doubles titles on the ITF Women’s Circuit.
On turning pro at such a young age, Ashley told another reporter, “I was number one in the nation in singles and won our hard court nationals. So, I took the main draw wildcard into the U.S. Open and that kind of solidified my decision. I’d always been training and working on going pro.” Ashely went onto to receive six entries into the US Open.
But instead of pluming Ashley’s copious wins and awards as a juniors player and a pro, I asked her to pass along what she experienced—and now teaches–as a former tennis prodigy: “Every young kid wants to be a world class tennis pro but as teenagers they start to understand the demands. There are a ton of sacrifices: traveling to 30 tournaments a year, giving up weekends, eating, sleep, vacations, holidays. Everything is dedicated to your tennis goals if you want to play professionally. You have to be dedicated and disciplined at a young age, even more so than talent. You may find yourself in a foreign country with no one there to help you.”
Sometimes in life opportunity knocks. And Ashley threw open the door when a Hollywood talent scout spotted her hitting on a court in California. He was casting for the soon to be 2017 blockbuster, “Battle of the Sexes,” a biopic of the historic grudge match between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King. Ashley won the part of player Kristy Pigeon, one of the “Original Nine” who were recently inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Pretty cool.
As for her own cinematic tastes, she unabashedly favors the silly, knee-slapping genre of “The Wedding Crashers,” “The Hangover” and another great moving starring Steve Carell (who played Bobby Riggs), “Little Miss Sunshine.” We agree that Will Ferrell’s “Step Brothers” is sufficiently immature and well worth watching. And she promises to check out the ridiculously farcical “Tropic Thunder.”
Diminutive, whippet-lean and sun-streaked, as our conversation concludes Ashley Weinhold begins to fidget and is clearly eager to return to the practice courts. For out there on the Academy’s 95-degree asphalt awaits a new generation of young tennis hopefuls, looking to be tutored along their pathway to greatness—or not. Either way, they are fortunate to have Ashley as their guide.
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Author John W. Weber is a writer, communications consultant and USTA team captain who lives in Lakeway. He moved to Texas from Arlington, Virginia in 2016. His son is an enthusiastic participant in Aceing Autism.
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