Tennis: Umumararungu traces her father’s footsteps

Discovering our natural talent can be quite a difficult task -- for some people it takes a short time and others it takes longer while others never even get to discover that they are actually talented at something.
Gisele Umumararungu lost to Kenya's Shufa Changawa in the quarter-finals of the ongoing 2016 Rwanda Tennis Open on Thursday. / Sam Ngendahimana
Gisele Umumararungu lost to Kenya's Shufa Changawa in the quarter-finals of the ongoing 2016 Rwanda Tennis Open on Thursday. / Sam Ngendahimana

Discovering our natural talent can be quite a difficult task—for some people it takes a short time and others it takes longer while others never even get to discover that they are actually talented at something.

Yet it is certainly believed that we all have a natural talent in one thing or another, but problem is, we are not always so good at identifying what exactly we’re talented at.

 

Parents can be very important in helping their children develop their talent by working with them at home from an early age. Having said that, Gisele Umumararungu is a distinct testimony of the parent’s ability to detect and help develop their children’s natural talents.

 

The 20-year-old tennis star is currently Rwanda’s women number two, behind Meganne Ingabire. As a young and ambitious athlete, Umumararungu picked inspiration for the sport from her father, Lucien Hamissi, a former Rwanda tennis star, who retired in 2005.

 

Her elder brother Hamissi Gatete, is currently Rwanda’s number five in the men’s category.

This week, Saturday Sport’s Geoffrey Asiimwe caught-up with Umumarurungu for a-one-on-one interview and she narrated her rise to top end of women tennis in Rwanda.

Profile

Born in Gikondo sector, Kicukiro District, in the City of Kigali on September 28, 1995 to Ernestine Umurungi and Lucien Hamissi, Umumararungu is the third born in the family of five siblings—two girls and three boys.

She attended Ecole Primaire de Mburabuturo for her primary education before joining Groupe Scholaire APE Rugunga in 2009 where she studied her secondary education. At advanced level, she pursued Mathematics, Economics and Geography.

Last year, Umumararungu joined University of Tourism Technology and Business Studies (UTB)- former Rwanda Tourism and University College where she’s pursuing Hotel, Restaurant and Management.

She says she is inspired by her role model and World number two, Serena Williams. Despite being a tennis player, Umumararungu is a fan of local football giants Rayon Sports and Spanish La Liga side, FC Barcelona.

Weighing 62kgs with a height of 1.80m, the 20-year old star says she is single and spends most of her leisure time hanging out with friends or watching movies at home.

Early life

Despite identifying her talent at a very early age, Umumararungu, at first, had picked interest in swimming until her father introduced her tennis.

“As a small child my hobby was swimming, I learnt swimming when I very young probably at the age of three and it was my favourite sport,” she recalls in an exclusive interview with Saturday Sport this week.

When she turned seven, in 2002, her father, who was still an active tennis player and a coach at Cercle Sportif de Kigali in Rugunga, began taking her to the club to train her along with other young kids that he was teaching.

“I never liked his idea at first and I remember, my father taking me to the tennis club would be a tag of war because, to me, his training was very tiresome and I tried all I could to show him that I wasn’t interested but he always insisted,” she narrates her early days in tennis.

With the company and added influence of her elder brother, Gatete, Umumararungu began to pick some interest in going for training until she eventually, as she put it, “fell in love with the sport.”

“I remember I could see my Dad’s photo that he took while in South Africa in 1990’s where he had gone to play in the All African Games and I felt more ambitious to reach such a level,” she says.

After one year in the sport, Umumararungu came into the limelight after winning several local tournaments that the tennis club would organize for kids hence penetrating into the national team the following year.

Playing career

At the age of nine in 2004, Umumararungu got her first selection to compete in the ITF tournament, competing in the girls’ U-12 category—the tournament was held in Nairobi, Kenya.

Despite bowing out of the competition in the first round, she insists 2004 remains her most memorable year due to the fact that it was her first time to board a plane and compete in an international competition.

“I remember by then we were given US$100 each, which I used for shopping and brought a lot of things back home, I was so excited about the fact that I had boarded a plane, so from that moment, I said to myself tennis is the sport for me,” she narrates with a shy smile on her face.

In 2005, she again competed in the same competition that was held in Bujumbura, Burundi this time reaching the quarter-finals.

Three years later, Umumarungu, together with her brother Gatete, competed in the qualifiers of African Junior Tennis Championship (AJC) that were held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and the duo, competing in the U-14 category, consequently qualified for the main event that was held in Casablanca, Morocco.

He recalls that, “We competed under the ITF team because a national team must comprise at least three players yet we were only the two of us from Rwanda, and I reached the third round.”

In 2010, she again competed in the Africa Junior Championship qualifiers that were held in Nairobi and reached the semi-finals hence qualifying for the African Championship staged in Nigeria where she reached the second round.

That same year, Rwanda hosted the ITF East Africa Junior Championships, in which Umumararungu won the U-16 category title, her first ITF title.

The soft-spoken Umumararungu, in 2012, again went to compete in the same competition (AJC) in Gaborone, Botswana, this time bowing out in the first round.

In 2013 when she turned 18, Umumararungu began competing in the seniors’ category. Her maiden competition was the ITF Money Circuit that she ultimately won after defeating a one Caroline Oduor from Kenya.

Since 2014, she has won silver medals in the local tournaments that include; Umubano Tennis Open, Genocide Memorial that were dominated by the top seed and her best friend and archrival, Ingabire.

She represented Rwanda at the 2015 All African Games that were held in Congo-Brazzaville, bowing out in the second round in the Women’s Singles and the quarter-finals in the doubles category.

In this year’s ongoing Rwanda Tennis Open, she reached the quarter-finals before losing to Kenya’s number one, Shufa Changawa in straight sets 6-4, 6-4. After failing in her attempt to win the Rwanda Open, which is returning after 15 years, Umumararungu said, “I hope to start competing in other regional competitions like Uganda and Kenya Open next year as I seek to improve and become a better player—only this way, I will be able to achieve my dreams.”

Best and worst moments

“The moment I still treasure to this day, was the day I won my first ITF title in 2010 after numerous near misses while the worst moment was last year during Umubano Tennis Open, I really wanted to defeat Ingabire in the final and put an end on her dominance but unfortunately I lost in three sets.”

Future plans

She says: “My ambition is to become the number one player in East Africa, I am giving myself two years to achieve this target, I want to become more active in regional competitions and I feel optimistic that with more experience and exposure, I will be able to improve.”

Appreciation

“First and foremost, I must thank my father because he introduced me to tennis and taught me everything I know about the sport today, another person is Slyvain Rutikanga, a coach at Cercle Sport, he has also taught me a lot.”

What others say about her

Her father and personal trainer, Hamissi says; “She started tennis at such a young age and at 13 years, she was really outstanding in her age group, but because of studies, she has not been actively in a lot of competitions, however; there is no doubt about her talent.”

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