Tennis Origin Story #8: André Rolemberg

By André Rolemberg

Better than Federer. 

If I turned professional, I’d be the best one. I’d be No. 1 and win a ton of majors. I can say that, because I never became one, so how can anyone really know? 

From the New York Times: Roger Federer after his victory over Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon semifinals. Credit: Hannah Mckay/Reuters 

In any case, with practice and dedication and discipline, maybe I would have been able to make it into the Top 10, or 5 (let me dream, this never happened). But I am also just about as tall as David Ferrer, so my height would have meant a disadvantage, even though my serve was one of the biggest weapons anyone had in the club I used to practice in Brazil and later when I played a bit here in Canada. It surely wouldn’t stay that way against the likes of Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, or Ferrer himself. 

Little Andre was never good in team sports. Little Andre was always small and hated conflict and too much physical contact. Little Andre was born in the most successful soccer/football nation in the world, and although he loves the sport, he was never quite talented or interested in playing it at any level other than at casual meetings with friends. And then little Andre found tennis, and his life changed. 

I started playing because I was always drawn towards being outside, doing physical activities. A couple friends of mine started playing in a club across the street from my…middle school, to put it this way, since the education system is different in Brazil. I was just interested in it, I grabbed a racket from this one friend as he taught me how to hold it and how to hit the ball, at the time against the wall. That must have been the moment I fell in love with it, because I remember I loved the feeling of playing in that moment, and I couldn’t stop bugging my parents to enroll me in some classes. 

Indoor and outdoor courts at the CET, the club I used to play at in Aracaju, Sergipe, Brazil 

I don’t quite know exactly what it is with tennis that makes me love it so much. Sometimes I look at myself and wonder “why the heck do I even like this so much, anyway? I’m literally the only person I have ever known outside of Tennis Twitter who likes this sport that much.”

Maybe it’s the precision. Maybe it’s the strategy. Maybe the scoring system, a hurdle every tennis fan once had to go through to come to love tennis. I personally think I just have a predisposition to enjoy manipulating things with my hands. I am also a musician and used to love drawing (I suck now). The very sensation of hitting a ball perfectly, feeling it on the strings in that moment of truth, spinning it back to the court or flattening it out, hitting the perfect drop shot or volley…there is no feeling quite like it.  

Growing up, I played exclusively on clay courts. Sliding is second nature to me; I also do it on snow now. My two-handed backhand was my best shot, it was solid as a rock, loaded with spin and I could put the ball anywhere I wanted. My socks were stained, and I wore them with pride. I loved Novak Djokovic, he was the underdog in a world dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He smiled a lot and had funny videos on YouTube, so I liked that about Djokovic. I remember watching him losing against Rafa and Roger, and thinking “no one can beat these guys. How are they so good? Nothing works against them!” Djokovic’s matches from the 2007-8 US Open vs Federer and the 2009 Madrid Open vs Nadal in particular come to my mind. 

Rafa Nadal vs Novak Djokovic EPIC! | Madrid 2009 Extended Tennis Highlights 

I wanted to be a pro. I started saving money to pay for more classes and time on court, I didn’t want much else besides playing tennis. I liked school, but I didn’t want to do homework: I wanted to play as soon as school was done. I used to watch matches on TV and try to copy what they were doing: Federer’s slice and serve, Nadal’s whip on his forehand which gave me a lot of crap from coaches who kept telling me to finish over my left shoulder, Murray’s and Djokovic’s drop shots. I used to call what these guys do at pro level “magic”. It was a high form of art for me, to hit a tennis ball so well, to move so fast, to accurately hit the corners time and time again. 

My project of a career took two major hits: one when I was 13, when I broke my right arm attempting a simple ollie while skateboarding. I stepped on the nose of the board, fell into my extended arm, and broke right in the middle of my forearm, creating a roughly 45-degree angle bend that looked freakishly like a second elbow. No tennis for 6 months. As soon as the doctor allowed me, I went back, though. 

The second one was the final nail in the coffin of a dream that was basically born dead anyways: coming to Canada. 

While it might seem like it would be better, I was already 16, so no funding for an old dude who hasn’t played juniors yet. I would have started in that exact year, had I stayed in Brazil. Probably would have stopped right away, but hey, all I wanted was to try. Back to Canada: an immigrant family rarely has money to spare, so I had to play in public courts and forget about it all in winter.  

It still took a couple years, but I had to admit it was never going to happen. I still loved tennis, otherwise I probably wouldn’t even be writing this right now, and I was already deep into learning the history of the sport and following every tournament, checking as many matches as I could, following the rankings. Of course, I can’t prove it, but I am certain at some point I could name the entire Top 100 in the ATP in order.  

Fun fact: I tried starting a tennis blog at least 3 times. After coming to terms with the dead dream of becoming a touring pro, I decided I wanted to work with tennis. I loved reading the match reports and articles in the ATP website, so I decided to try and pursue that. I never really had the drive to put in the work to keep a tennis blog, though, for several personal reasons. One of them I can actually share, as it is part of why I came back to tennis: I started suffering from anxiety when I moved to Canada, and was possibly close to developing depression because I just felt so alone here. No friends, only immediate family, no regular playing. Watching tennis and reading about it was my refuge. 

Notice I said I came back to tennis. That’s right. Around end of 2015 (coinciding with the time Wawrinka won the French Open, which left me devasted as Djokovic was still my favourite) I started shifting my focus on a personal project I started with a couple friends from university. It was a Christian music group, and I was also getting very involved in a local church playing bass. Music became my number 1 passion then. My bandmates were my family. Did I forget about tennis? Never. It was just not my daily bread anymore. 

During early morning practice in the movie theatre we used to gather for church in Montreal, Canada. Photo by the talented Dan Schrempf 

Fast-forward to 2020. It was the year something really big happened in the world: the Tennis and Bagels Podcast had been launched! The reason it started was because I was struggling to find a job, and I realized that I still loved tennis very much. By then I was in love with podcasts (still am) and thought, hey why not? I got into Twitter, because it’s where it’s at when it comes to sports, and found a great community of fans who love the sport as much as I do, or even more, I daresay. 

It was on Twitter that I got the most motivation for my pod, and where I also found my two extremely talented co-hosts: Vansh Vermani, who contacted me first and expressed interest in participating, bringing the pod to a whole new level, and Owen Lewis, co-founder of this website and my first Twitter guest on the podcast. #Respect.  

Anyway, the pandemic also started in 2020. I lost my part-time job for about a month and a half, which actually allowed me to focus almost entirely in the podcast. The tennis love was being reignited in me. 

By 2021, with my job back in social media and the podcast exceeding all expectations I had for it, smashing all of my goals with immense margin, what is possibly the biggest thing in my tennis life happened: I applied for a job a Tennis Canada, and I got it.  

I did not turn out a professional tennis player, but I am as close to the action as it gets now. And several years after deciding I wanted to write about tennis… well, well, well. How the turntables. 

Me holding the National Bank Open trophy in Montreal, 2021, on finals day before play started. What a moment. 

As a final note. I would like to congratulate Owen and Scott (also in the podcast world, with one of the best ideas for a show ever had, the Murray Musings, a show dedicated exclusively to live and/or die for Andy Murray) for initiating this project. They are the fans this sport needs, the ones who want to put it forward, bring it to the 21st century without losing the core of tennis which made us fans in the first place. I thank you two for inviting me to write for the Popcorn Tennis website. I don’t write good like you tho. Sorry for the poor English (it wouldn’t be Canadian if I didn’t say sorry at least once.) 

Cheers, never give up on your dreams! Even if you have to tweak them a little 😉 

-André 

Find some more of my tennis photos and videos and more on my instagram: https://www.instagram.com/andrerolembergthoughts/ 

Follow me on twitter @Rolemberg_Andre 

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