At a tender age of 20, Olivier Havugimana has become a local tennis rising star. Born less than two kilometres from Cercle Sportif de Kigali, the famous tennis club located in Rugunga sector, it was easier for Havugimana to get attracted to the sport at an early age.
“Like other kids in my neighbourhood, I grew up playing football, but I would see my elder brother going to Cercle everyday to play tennis, and sometimes I would follow him, so that is how I picked interest in wanting to learn how to play tennis,” Havugimana recalls the beginning of his journey in tennis.
In 2004, Cercle Sportif de Kigali offered willing young kids an opportunity to be trained and Havugimana was among the 20 kids that were selected for the three-week training. At the end of the training only 10 kids were retained for further grooming—among them was Havugimana and Gisele Umumararungu, the current Rwanda number two in the women singles category.
“We spent the next three years learning but as time went on many of my colleagues were dropped while others decided to withdraw one by one but for me I had already fallen I love with the sport and was working hard to make it,” he explains.
During the three-year probation period, Havugimana displayed extraordinary talent, winning several kids tournaments that were staged during the course of that period hence being promoted to the national junior team in 2007, along with Umumararungu and Prince Ishimwe.
2007: The breakthrough year
Shortly after joining the national junior team, Havugimana along with Umumararungu and Ishimwe competed in the 2007 ITF Africa 14 & Under championships that were held in Nairobi, Kenya, his first time to represent the country and he managed to reach the second round.
“The year 2007 was my breakthrough. To begin with, unlike my compatriots, who had been to Kenya the previous year to compete in an ITF tournament, for me it was a dream come true, I was so excited and this motivated me to work even harder to improve,” he recalls.
In 2008, Havugimana competed in the ITF Africa 14 & Under championship which was hosted in Bujumbura, Burundi, and made it to the quarter-finals before reaching the semi-finals in the 2009 edition held in Kigali.
2010: A year to remember
One of the most memorable recollections of his career was in 2010. At the age 14, Havugimana took his flight to Nairobi to compete in the Africa Junior Championship qualifiers.
“First of all, it was my first time to fly, having tested how great it was, I set myself a target to qualify for the African championship, which was to be staged in Nigeria. I really wanted to be on the plane again,” he recounts.
He reached the semi-finals and automatically sealed a ticket to compete in the Africa Junior Championships. Unfortunately in Abuja, Havugimana did not impress as he was knocked out in the second round hence returning home earlier than he expected.
In 2014, Havugimana graduated to the senior ranks and begun to compete in the professionals’ category at the age of 18.
“After the age of 18, junior tournaments became fewer, so I decided to step up and start a new challenge in the professionals’ category,” he adds.
His first competition as a professional was the 2015 Genocide Memorial tournament where he reached the final but lost against former number one Dieudonne Habiyambere.
Havugimana says his second competition was the inaugural Umubano Open that was organized by Hotel Umubano and again reached the final, this time losing to current number one, Ernest Habiyambere.
In late 2015, he made his debut in Uganda Open, only reaching the second round before competing in the 2015 All Africa Games that were held in Congo Brazzaville where he reached the third round.
This year, he competed in the Kenya Open Championship held in June but again failed to go beyond the quarter-finals before reaching the semi-finals of 2016 Genocide Memorial tournament.
Havugimana, who turns 20 on December 16, is currently gearing up for the third edition of Rwanda Open that is scheduled for September 15-25 at Amahoro National Stadium outdoor tennis courts in Remera.
“I really want to win the Open and end my wait for a trophy at this level, I am working hard in training, and hopefully, Rwanda Open will be my first title,” he vowed.
Born in Gikondo sector, Kicukiro District, City of Kigali on December 16, 1996 to Anastase Havugimana and Anastasia Mukakimenyi, Havugimana is the sixth child in the family of seven siblings—four boys and three girls.
Havugimana is not the only one in his family to play tennis as his elder brothers also tried the sports but none of them took it to the level that the former has.
However, all his siblings have played tennis at some stage in their lives; his elder brother (Eric Uwamahoro) took a path of coaching young kids at Cercle Sportif de Kigali.
Havugimana attended Ecole Primaire de Mburabuturo in Gikondo for his primary education and later joined Ecole Secondaire de Gikondo for Ordinary level before joining Solidarity Academy also based in Gikondo for Advanced level.
He studied at Solidarity Academy for one year, pursuing History-Economics and Geography (HEG) before joining Ecole Secondaire Islamique (ESSI NYAMIRAMBO) where he completed his secondary school studies in 2013.
Unfortunately Havugimana could not make the cut off points to join the university after senior six hence putting an end to his education career to focus on becoming the best tennis player that he can possibly be.
Explaining why he chose tennis over education, Havugimana admitted that, “Because of devoting most of my time to playing tennis, my academic performance was not good so after completing A’level, I knew I had to take one path, either tennis or studies and I chose tennis.”
The soft-spoken Havugimana looks up to Spanish former world number one (now number 5), Rafa Nadal Parera and he is also a fan La-Liga giants, Real Madrid.
Best and worst moments
“As earlier mentioned my best moment was in 2010 when I had my first flight to Nairobi and qualifying for the Africa Junior Championships… I really don’t recall any worst moment I have encountered so far.”
Ambition and targets
He says, “I still have a long journey to go and my ambition is to become Rwanda’s best player and one of the best in Africa, so that I can be an inspiration for the younger players in Rwanda.”
“My appreciation goes, first and foremost, to my elder brother (Uwamahoro), he is not only the reason I picked interest in playing tennis but he taught me and inspired me a lot—he still does to date. The others are my coaches during my junior level, I can’t thank them enough,” states the 19-year-old.
What others say about him
Dieudonne Habiyambere, the former Rwanda number one but currently ranked third, said, “He is one of the most talented tennis players I have seen in the last 10 years, I know he is yet to reach his full potential but given his hardworking spirit, he is a big asset for Rwandan tennis.”