Reading our very own Leland Orfield’s recap of last weekend’s APP Houston Open, you may have noticed how Tamaryn Emmrich made the final of the Mixed Pro Doubles. It was notable for it being John Cincola and Emmerich’s first appearance in the finals this year.
They couldn’t live with the skill and power of their opponents Susannah Barr and Andrei Daescu and fell 11-8, 11-1), with a 15-point tiebreaker which finished 15-4. It was a heroic showing overall, though, with them only dropping two games prior to the final.
Their journey to reaching the Open finals is no less dramatic and took plenty of ups and downs along the way.
Martin and Tammy Emmrich started their two-decade pickleballing odyssey as accomplished junior and later professional tennis players. It was while playing this sport that their paths converged, culminating in marriage and a shared decision to transition away from the sport in favor of starting a family.
Subsequently, they put down roots in Bradenton, Florida, where Tammy pursued a career in real estate while Martin assumed the role of a tennis instructor. Following a few initial challenges with conception, including miscarriages, their daughter Gabriella (Gabi) came into the world on June 20, 2020.
Life proceeded in an ordinary fashion until a significant development occurred: the introduction of pickleball.
Taking The Plunge
In October 2022, Tammy decided to venture into pickleball, motivated by a desire to enhance her fitness post-pregnancy, counteract prolonged periods of sedentary work, and address the impact of COVID-19 shutdowns.
Observing older individuals thoroughly enjoying their time on a local pickleball court inspired her to give it a try, and convinced that age should not be a deterrent, she took the plunge.
Reflecting on her initial experience, Tammy comments, “I tried it and was like, ‘Wow!’ I had so much fun, even though I had no idea what I was doing.” As Tammy Hendler, she had once excelled as a prominent junior tennis player in her native Belgium.
“I Was Hooked”
She urged Martin to join her, anticipating that he too might find it appealing: “It was like tennis, but definitely totally different. I told Martin to come by; he had to try it, too, because I thought he would also like it. I ended up signing up for a beginning group of like 65-year-old people; it wasn’t a great workout, but it was really fun. I was hooked.”
Martin, in turn, grew into the sport, and it became his all-consuming passion to the extent that he found it hard to step away. “It is my obsession now, truly,” confessed Martin, a 38-year-old hailing from Germany. “I cannot get enough. I am having so much fun; it’s the only thing I really want to do right now. I am all in.”
Remarkably, within a year, Martin and Tammy progressed from being curious novices to skilled operators, actively participating in professional tournaments and setting their sights on ascending to the pinnacle of pickleball’s professional rankings.
In competitions, Tammy partners with Tina Pisnik, a former WTA doubles specialist and a close friend. Coincidentally, Pisnik also collaborates with Martin as a tennis instructor. On the other hand, Martin pairs up with William Sobek, the men’s singles champion of the 2023 Boca Raton APP NYC Open, while Pisnik joins him for mixed doubles.
As mentioned before, Tammy partners with John Cincola in mixed doubles.
Presently, the couple refrains from engaging in singles matches due to the additional time commitment it demands from Martin’s professional responsibilities. They aspire to secure sponsorships, enabling Martin to transition away from the extensive hours devoted to tennis instruction and fully immerse himself in pickleball.
Their journey in pickleball is in its nascent stages, but their trajectory is characterized by steady progress, ever-increasing experience, and, significantly, a track record of positive outcomes.
Shedding 40 Pounds
The emergence of pickleball in their lives has had a transformative impact, rekindling dormant passions and imparting fresh insights. Tammy has shed 40 pounds and relishes the challenge of learning from pickleball’s top professionals.
For Martin, the physical demands now exceed those of his final years in tennis, prompting his former ATP doubles partner to remark on his improved condition and heightened determination compared to when he used to play on the tennis tour.
“Getting into pickleball was so fast because it just connected with me,” he comments. “But there is so much I don’t know. I have to not think like a tennis player because it is different.
“But what I love is how fast pickleball is. It’s very intense, and I am an intense person on court. It’s so hype, like a beach volleyball atmosphere with the loud music and the DJs.
“For me, it is like tennis because I love having crowds watching me. The bigger the crowd, the better I play. I’m just riding the wave of it all right now.”
Relatively Seamless Transition
The transition from elite tennis to pickleball was relatively seamless for both, owing to their highly developed racquet skills and deeply ingrained physical instincts. Martin’s proficiency in tennis doubles naturally translated to the pickleball court.
Yet, unlearning certain tennis techniques, adjusting to the feel of a livelier ball, and adopting new strategic approaches remain challenging, but they are totally committed to this learning process.
For Tammy, engaging in pickleball has reignited her competitive spirit, a facet that had somewhat dimmed during her tenure on the professional tennis circuit.
Following a successful stint as a junior player, she struggled under the weight of lofty expectations in her professional career. While she achieved a ranking of 160 globally, major tournament victories remained elusive.
Subsequently, she opted to step away from the game in her early 20s, returning to Belgium to contribute to her father’s business. After a hiatus, she chose to revisit tennis on her own terms, ultimately retiring from the sport.
“I did everything I wanted to do in tennis, and I moved on to what I wanted — having a family and life with Martin,” she says. “But now I want to really see what I, what we, can accomplish within pickleball. There is so much opportunity, and it is very exciting right now. We are doing this as a family. We’re both very competitive people; we hate to lose, so this is all feeling like fun for us.”
A More Measured Perspective
Martin openly acknowledges that losing is not something he handles with ease, while Tammy brings a more measured perspective.
Consequently, they deliberately choose not to participate in mixed doubles together, having experimented with it a few times. Although they partake in the same events, they have found that joining forces on the court is not conducive to their marital harmony.
Tammy candidly remarked, “He’s so competitive that it was pretty awful for me. No thanks.”
Martin concurred, stating, “I love my wife and want to stay married, so we’re not going to go there again. It made for a quiet car ride on the way home after we played together. I learned my lesson. We can cheer each other on. We want this pickleball life to be fun.”
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