Tribute: Farewell, Andre pays tribute to Andre Sa, who has ended his playing career

In the locker room, where players let down their guard and opinions often fly around, there has been an animated, yet sensitive presence, well versed over the past 20 years as a player, a diplomat and as an ambassador. Today, as Andre Sa transitions from playing to a coaching career, charged with overseeing his compatriot, Thomaz Bellucci, a political future — inside the sport he’s played for the past 32 years — has been mapped out.

For four years, Sa was a knowledgeable, perceptive and respected advocate for the development of tennis on the ATP Player Council between 2012 and 2016, a period highlighted by greater prize money distribution at Grand Slams, ATP Challenger Tour and player pension enhancements, and the establishment of doubles qualifying events at ATP World Tour 500 tournaments. “The overall experience was very good in trying to better educate players on issues relating to the Tour,” Sa told Last week, the International Tennis Federation announced that Sa was to become a part of its new Player Relations department.

As a speaker of five languages, it’s a far cry from when 12-year-old Sa used Gustavo Kuerten as his translator at an Orange Bowl, the prestigious year-end junior tournament. It remains a standout memory for Kuerten, who told, “Now he speaks a lot of languages. He is almost an ATP diplomat, he’s seen the world. But back then he only spoke Portuguese! I knew about five words in English and I was his interpreter. Imagine the situation!”

Sa recalled the funny story, saying, “I didn’t speak one word of English. I ordered a strawberry milkshake, but I didn’t know how to say ‘strawberry’, so I said, ‘Can I have a Morango [Portuguese for strawberry]…?’ Guga started laughing and everyone around was cracking up, when he said, ‘C’mon man! Strawberry, strawberry!’”

During a 23-season professional career, Sa reached the 2002 Wimbledon quarter-finals (l. to Tim Henman) and rose to a career-high No. 55 in the ATP Rankings (12 August 2002). He captured 11 ATP World Tour doubles titles from his very first at Hong Kong in 2001 (w/Karsten Braasch) to last year’s emotional triumph at the Brasil Open (w/Rogerio Dutra Silva), where today, in partnership with Bellucci, he played the 741st professional match of his career (52-92 singles, 291-306 doubles). In the team discipline, in which he reached a total of 30 finals (11-19 record), he climbed to No. 17 in the ATP Doubles Rankings on 2 February 2009.

“The locker room talk is always the best about the sport,” says Sa, reflecting on what he will miss. “The most important things for me were the friendships I built up over the years. I met so many people and encountered so many different cultures. I spent time with so many Spanish, French, English or South American guys. That’s the best part. It’s priceless. Now I’m into coaching, I’ll be in the locker room sometimes, but not as a player. I will still hang out with the guys, which was my favourite part of being a professional tennis player. I will miss the thrill of competing. It will be at a different level now, but I of course will want my player to win. I always enjoyed fighting for every point and figuring out how to win.”

It was from the talent hotbed of Minas Tênis Clube, one of Brazil’s best tennis facilities, which included Daniel Melo, Marcelo Melo, Marcio Torres and Bruno Soares among its membership, that 13-year-old Sa, of his own volition, decided to move to Bradenton, Florida, to pursue his dream of a life in tennis. At Nick Bollettieri’s Academy, he developed as a player – on tennis and basketball courts (as a shooting guard) in high school teams over a five-year stay – with Max Mirnyi and room-mate Tommy Haas, who both continue to play on the ATP World Tour.

“I always killed it,” Sa, jokingly, told of their basketball clashes. “I felt it was an easy game for me. The others were playing catch up. I was easily the best. It was fun. We had such good battles and healthy competition, be it tennis or basketball. Max came maybe one year later and we started to become really close. We played basketball every day, for the first two or three years that I was there. Every time after practice we went to the indoor courts and basketball was more important to me than tennis – that’s for sure!”

Sa also became “more outspoken and charismatic”, according to Torres, his childhood friend turned manager. “Andre has only changed for the better. He is 40 years old, but moves like a 20-year-old. He hasn’t aged. No wrinkles and no sign of body changes, which is pretty amazing. We had no idea that all of us at Minas would play professionally. We all loved the sport, fought to succeed and we each had our career.”

Encouraged to take up the sport by his older brother, Vinny, Sa rose through the ranks primarily because of his speed in rushing the net, his world-class returns and a solid first volley. As a popular member of the Tour, off the court Sa often joined Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan as a guitar player for performances. Presently, he is close to finishing an online business course.

“I’d like to be remembered as a guy who played by the rules,” said Sa. “I competed as hard as I could and fought for every ball to win matches. I just want to be remembered as a good competitor – I’ll be fine with that.”

ATP World Tour Stars Pay Tribute

Rafael Nadal
"I want to congratulate you on a long and established career, and I wish you the best of luck going forward in whatever you pursue. Even though you're now retired, I hope I bump into you at tournaments throughout the year. A big hug, and until I see you again, best of luck."

Gustavo Kuerten
“For me it’s a privilege to talk about someone like Andre. He has had an amazing career. He has been a great example on and off the court and also a great ambassador of our country. He reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals… He has been always respectful and kind with everybody. A model citizen. I celebrate his long career. We have shared a lot of memories and he has been a great partner and friend. I can assure you: he won’t be too far away from a tennis court! He is a special character.”

Nicolas Lapentti
“You are amazing. You are going to be missed. My congratulations on your amazing career. The Tour, the people, the fans, the kids, everybody will miss you. You have been a great example, because of your dedication and your joy on and off the court. I wish you nothing but the best and I know you will be successful in whatever comes next. The best thing that the Tour leaves us are true friends, and you are one of them. I love you.”

Mike Bryan
“Andre’s had a great career. Making the quarter-finals of Wimbledon singles and making the Top 100 and then transitioning to doubles. He’s another one of the good guys on Tour. He’s one of the most fun-loving guys in the locker room. And if you had to pick a guy to run into that can make you happy it’s Andre Sa. He was great and he played music, too. We played nights in the hotel room with Andre on the guitar. He was one of the best returners on the Tour for so long. That was the strength of his game, and he volleyed really well. We played him early on and he lasted. I remember one of our first matches we had a tie-break that I think went to 20/18. It’s just so cool to see him last so long and I think he’s going into coaching. He’s one of our best friends on Tour."

Leander Paes
“Andre and I go back to the mid-1990s, when we played a lot of Challengers in Asia. Andre has had a phenomenal career, he is one of my good friends and nicest guys on the Tour. I remember his 2002 Wimbledon quarter-final singles result, which will always stand out in his career. In doubles, he has also been one of the best doubles players out there. What stands out is how Andre has conducted himself both on and off the court. I wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life with his beautiful family.”

Marcelo Melo
“He is such a great player and guy on and off the court. He was my first partner at an ATP World Tour tournament in Estoril, so we have played a lot again. He has a lot of experience and can share that as a coach to [Thomaz] Bellucci now. He used to sleep in my house as kids. Andre belongs to our family. Our parents know each other really well. Andre was the first player that played a lot from Belo. We played together for than two-and-a-half years.”

Max Mirnyi
“Andre and I go way back, starting as class mates at NBTA back in 1992. I remember Andre from a basketball court, where we were rivals. He played for the high school team in basketball and tennis. He has successful singles moments – including the Wimbledon quarter-finals – and we have always supported each other throughout our careers.”

Bruno Soares
“Andre is one my best friends and he has helped us a lot. He is a little older than me, so he used to play and I enjoyed watching his game. He was also helping the guys coming up behind him. He was always very open and became a close friend. When I got to the Challenger level and we started to play doubles together, he really cared about me and my game, my development. He gave me feedback based upon his experiences. We started playing a lot and travelling together on the Challenger Tour. He is very funny and charismatic, always great to be around. It was so nice to be able to compete with such a good friend beside you. Back in the days, maybe 2003-04, we had cell phones and he had a camera. We filmed our life on Tour. It is crazy, there is no real explanation why we came from the same area, same club and became successful as players. It is funny coincidence. Andre used to spend time with Daniel Melo, trained on the same courts. It’s amazing for all of us.”