Two years ago, Andre Mercado was a bit non-plussed when a family friend suggested he give a new sport called pickleball a shot.
Initially hesitant, he recounted, “I was like, OK, fine.”
Encouragement from his tennis-backgrounded father nudged him further, despite his initial reluctance:
“My dad asked if I wanted to play. I was like, no, not really,” Andre told Stephen Hunt of Red Line Editorial. “I was playing basketball and said what the heck, I guess I’ll try it. I got through one game and was actually pretty good.
“We played for a couple hours, and the next day, I asked my dad if we could go to the courts again. He was like, sure.”
Surprisingly, he excelled from the start, prompting a request to return to the courts the very next day.
Purchasing their initial gear from a Walmart in Scottsdale and debuting on a rainy day at an empty park, Andre recalled, “Smiley Riley gave us a mini-lesson for 35 to 45 minutes. That really helped us, learning the basics and how to do all the serves and returns.”
This crash course in basics, serves, and returns marked their official entry into the sport. The Mercados swiftly became die-hard pickleball enthusiasts, hitting the courts up to six times every week.
For Randall, Andre’s father, the joy lies in the family bonding and competitive play: “The best thing I love about it is that it’s something I can do with my whole family, especially Andre, at a competitive level,” Randall said. “It’s really brought us together.”
Junior Boys’ Gold
At just 14, Andre already boasts two appearances at Nationals. After securing bronze in junior doubles during his debut in 2022, he clinched gold in the junior boys’ singles and doubles categories (age 13-14) at the 2023 Biofreeze USA Pickleball National Championships.
His victory partnering with Jack Sahid from Laguna Niguel, California, marked a significant achievement.
The tournament witnessed intense moments, including a three-set singles semifinal where he actually lost to Sahid. Nonetheless, Andre battled through the loser’s bracket and eventually secured the gold medal by defeating his doubles partner in an exciting return contest.
Randall expressed immense pride in Andre’s achievement at the Nationals:
“It’s extremely gratifying,” said Randall. “After being up 10-1, his partner came back and beat him, knocking him to the loser’s bracket.
“For him to have the mental strength and intestinal fortitude to not give up after being up so far, for him to do it on his own — I didn’t give him a pep talk — and for him to be down in that final game to 15, I was overwhelmed with emotion when he won. This is probably one of the best experiences of my life, if not the best.”
Outside their time on the court, the Mercados also contribute to the pickleball community through their club, the Pickleball Players Club of Arizona. Andre mentioned their involvement in coaching and their supportive presence at tournaments:
“(The club) has a bunch of juniors, and we go to tournaments and cheer each other on,” said Andre. “I had all my friends there to cheer me on, and their parents and my dad and grandma (Shirley, who attends every tournament) there.
“It’s really nice because if I ever make a mistake, I can look over to them, and they’re like it’s OK, you’ve got this, you’re still in this.”
For Randall, playing doubles with Andre holds huge significance:
“Andre’s a very smart kid, and when I explain things to him, he gets it,” Randall says. “Being there on the court with him has been the most amazing way for me to teach him. Because what better time to have a discussion about something? I can’t coach him from the sidelines unless it’s a timeout. It’s such a blessing.”
He also appreciated pickleball’s inclusivity and how it is easy to get the hang of but possesses a unique depth, which is immensely challenging.
“I like how all ages can play it,” he said. “It’s easy to play and hard to master, which is a really fun aspect of it.
He was also aware of how it had brought his son out of himself and given him a whole new circle of friends.
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