Many tennis players in Great Britain dream about moving to the United States to compete in the sport, and this dream has become a reality for one girl from Cullercoats.
Abigail Lemberger is captain of the William Woods girls’ university tennis team in Missouri.
The 19-year-old, who made the switch to the States in August 2015, began her tennis career at Cullercoats Lawn Tennis Club at the age of six, following in the footsteps of her older brother.
Coaching from Stuart Cass and Adam Barratclough enabled her to reach her potential and she left England ranked within the top 100 players in the county.
Lemberger, who attended St Thomas More RC Academy in North Shields, always liked the idea of going to an American university and is relishing her opportunity.
“I always enjoyed travelling to away tournaments and just really liked the idea of travelling America with a team, as well as the coaching and the facilities American universities can offer,” she said.
“I’m currently doing a major in exercise science and a minor in criminal justice, as well as being captain of the girls’ tennis team.
“I have played singles and doubles throughout the season but our team is very strong so I usually play doubles when I’m in the line-up.
“Me and my partner beat the team ranked number 23 and 14 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) this season, meaning we are currently ranked number ten nationally.”
Professional tennis players such as John Isner and South African born Kevin Anderson both graduated through the American university system, and success stories such as these make the idea of travelling abroad to study much more appealing for an aspiring tennis player.
However, Lemberger understands how tough it is to turn professional, let alone make a living within the sport, and she has kept her feet firmly on the ground.
“I just want to keep playing and stay here at William Woods and just improve as much as I can. I know a lot of people come to America with huge aspirations and of course I want to get better but I just want to keep loving the game as much as I did at six years old and keep competing at a good level,” she added.
British tennis has been criticised over the past few months because of the lack of players making it to a high standard of the game through the Lawn Tennis Association.
More and more youngsters are opting to move abroad in an attempt to turn their hobby in to a career.
Lemberger has noticed the difference in intensity during her stay in America, and she believes this could be an area where British tennis needs to improve.
She said: “The training schedule is completely different. Here we have fitness at least three times a week and that is compulsory, sometimes even five times as well as tennis every day. Whereas back in England you only really have training once a week.
“Obviously it depends on the university, but I just feel like everything is just a lot more serious here.
“Most of the facilities are nice and the whole athletic department usually attends each other’s games and matches, so it’s not just the tennis team who watches the tennis match, soccer, baseball, golf and everyone else each support each other. I don’t think that really happens back home, but I could be wrong.”
The teenager understood that she was not just moving to America to play tennis, other things needed to be taken in to account when making such a big decision; but so far she doesn’t regret a thing.
“I love it here! I mean, yeah it was hard to decide where to attend, I had a lot of good offers, but obviously scholarship, climate and academics also plays a huge factor when deciding,” she said.
“I felt like William Woods would be a good fit for me as it’s a smaller school, so you get to know your professors one-to-one, and if you need help in the class you get it.
“Also being in NAIA fits me better, even though it’s still very serious it’s not as much pressure and this suits me more as a player.
“My coach also was very influential for me. I felt like I would bond well with her and you have to spend so much time with your coach so this was a very important factor to consider.
“Luckily for me my coach understands how I learn and knows how to communicate to me personally.”
Lemberger admits that the scholarship has allowed her to mature in ways which she would not have been able to had she gone to university in the UK.
“Not only has it helped me with my tennis it has also helped me grow up in general, you learn how to take on more responsibility, if you need to do something you can’t just ring your parents and ask them what to do, or if something’s wrong you can’t just go home so it helps you to take on more responsibility,” she said.
The thought of moving to a different country at such a young age can be daunting for some, but Lemberger urges more people not to rule it out and go to America for the experience.
The teenager said: “I think if you have the opportunity you should definitely try it out. The worst thing that could happen is that you don’t like it, in which case you can just go home. But it’s a great opportunity for sure.”
The American dream states, ‘the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved’.
Lemberger is seizing her opportunity with both hands, taking full advantage of her tennis ability by testing her skills against the best that other American Universities have to offer.
Her experiences while at university will stand her in good stead for later life competing in an environment full of some of the world’s best up and coming athletes.