She Wants It

Hard work and practice is earning success for tennis player Anne Wellford.

Marci Lambert

Teenagers often gather knickknacks that express their passions. In her bedroom, Anne Wellford mounts objects made of wood and string on a bright orange wall. But the 16-year-old doesn’t collect funky sculptures. Rather, she displays tennis rackets from her first lessons and big matches. The rackets form a timeline of her growth as a budding competitor.

Her love of competition shows in her approach to each new day. When the alarm goes off, Anne takes just 10 minutes to get ready for school. She steps into an outfit chosen the night before and quickly braids her hair. On the way out, she scoops up homework for her International Baccalaureate (IB) classes and a tennis racket. With this simple routine, she saves energy for activities that matter.

In the halls at Germantown High School, she’s easy to spot with her signature French braid. Some might envy her sense of purpose. Yet, if she were granted one wish, Anne says she’d choose to strengthen her ability to focus. “My attention span is short,” she admits. “When I start something new or reconstruct a tennis stroke, it doesn’t feel second nature. I get frustrated, but I keep in mind that it will get better.”

In truth, her focus is sharp. Her tennis coach calls her the Most Valuable Player on Germantown High School’s Red Devils team. Teammates know her as their trusted captain; teachers recognize her as a gifted student. To her mother, Anne’s a cherished child, “five-foot-two, with eyes of blue,” says Charissa Wellford with a laugh. But she’s proud of her daughter’s efforts. “This past year has been a season of growth. Anne put in a year of hard work and it shows,” she says.

Now, Anne’s swings a new racket for the upcoming tournaments she’ll play with the United States Tennis Association (USTA). The coming season holds more matches, more firsts, until this racket, too, takes a place in the timeline.

“So you’re the girl who needs a tennis court in her backyard!” teases a construction manager hired to put in the court behind their house. Anne may not need the game, but it contributes to her well-being. “I’m happier when I play. Sometimes, practicing with friends, I’ll get a little carried away and five hours go by.” The court is a vital part of her social life, where friends and family often play together.

Her father, Brandon, is an enthusiastic USTA competitor, as are her grandparents. In fact, 88-year-old Dabney Wellford won the Consolation Round in this year’s National Senior Olympics, while his wife, Dot, picked up a Silver Medal. Distant cousin Alexander Wellford played in the 1953 Wimbledon singles championships and helped found the Memphis Tennis Association.

“It’s cool to keep the family tradition going,” Anne says. 

The teen’s passion began at age 8 with group lessons. Later, she joined the Germantown Middle School tennis team and became the No. 1 ranked player  in sixth to tenth grade. Then, as a high school freshman, she was named Outstanding Player and Best of Preps. The hits kept coming her sophomore year, with Most Valuable Player and Best of Preps, and with doubles partner, Nicole Shennett, Outstanding Doubles Performance.

I meet up with Anne at Ridgeway Country Club, where she takes lessons with Michael Ballard, who also coaches the high school team. Anne puts topspin on the ball and shows off a strong slice. “Pounce on it!” urges Ballard. Anne rushes to volley, and for the next few minutes, keeps the ball in fierce play.

“I’m trying to be aggressive with shot selection and make smart, high- percentage choices,” she says. “My dad says, ‘you just have to want it more than your opponent does.’ ”

Anne is hoping that mindset will help her win tournaments and potentially a college scholarship. Her high school coach picked Anne as team captain when she was just a freshman. With her levelheaded style and sportsmanship, she stood out.

“I had more experience than other girls, and I could answer quick questions when they didn’t want to bother the coach.” Anne’s close relationship with her older brother, Robert, who has special needs, has taught her patience and diplomacy.

The rigorous I.B. program means a heavy workload, but by limiting social media and not procrastinating, Anne squeezes in several hours of practice every day. She plans to major in engineering or architecture; time will tell. It’s hard for her to purge the urge to move, so she braids her hair or doodles while listening to class lectures. Perhaps she’s just an ordinary kid after all. At the National Indoor Championships, she volunteered as a ball kid for Andy Roddick. There, she and Nicole also met top player, Mike Bryan. The pair asked a favor, then took out a cell phone and snapped a selfie. Turns out you have to want it.



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