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Diego Schwartzman - the best Jewish tennis player on earth

  • JTAFriedmanDiego
Twenty-four-year-old Diego Schwartzman of Argentina was the great Jewish hopeful when Wimbledon started this week, with no other Jewish player being seeded higher for this tournament.
by GABE FRIEDMAN | Jul 06, 2017

Seeded 37th, Schwartzman got unstuck in his first round match against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Dimitrov beat Schwartzman 7-6 in a tie-break, before cruising through the other two sets 6-2, 6-2. 

 “It was a tough match for both of us; neither of us played good tennis,” Schwartzman said after the game. “The conditions were tough, but at the end of the day he played a bit better than me.”

Believing his opponent’s experience contributed to the loss, he said: “The difference with the surface here and at the practice courts was a big one. He’s also played more matches on this surface and I think he won because he knows the surface a bit better than me - these conditions aren’t really suitable for my game.”

This is his third appearance at the Championships - and third straight defeat - he does, though, say he enjoys playing on grass.

“I really enjoy it”, he said. “I had a match point to reach the second round in Eastbourne, and today I think in the first set I played some good tennis. I had the chance to close the first set, but it was really tough. When he ups the pace slightly, it’s hard to play against players like him.”

But tennis fundis still foresee a bright future for this scrappy lad from Buenos Aires, who had an  impressive five-set duel with perennial star Novak Djokovic at the French Open last month.

Schwartzman, who was raised in a Jewish family in Buenos Aires, has steadily risen in the rankings since turning pro at 17. Between 2010 and 2012, he won nine tournaments in the International Tennis Federation — the sport's minor leagues. He won his first ATP Tour title at the Istanbul Open last year, then upsetting the highly ranked Dimitrov.

Schwartzman plays best on clay (a thick surface, used at the French Open, that deadens the ball), which has the opposite properties of a grass court (a swift surface used at Wimbledon).

Here are some fun (and Jewish) facts about the up-and-coming Argentine.

He is a celebrity among the Jews back home

Schwartzman says he is always recognized on the streets by the Jews in his home country.

“I am Jewish and in Argentina, we have many Jewish [people] there, and all the people there know me," he said. Passers-by tell him, “Enjoy! Good luck this season. Come on, keep going!”

Schwartzman did not attend Hebrew school in Buenos Aires, but he said he tries to observe Jewish holidays on the pro tennis tour -- acknowledging it can be difficult.

He’s only 5-foot-7.

No, this isn’t basketball. But shorter tennis players are at a disadvantage — making his success even more surprising. Schwartzman must work harder to make sure his shots pack enough punch to hang with taller players (Dimitrov, for example, is 6-3). His size and playing style is reminiscent of David Ferrer, a 5-9 Spaniard who once was ranked No. 3 in the world and reached the French Open final in 2013.

He has Israeli tennis friends.

Schwartzman told JTA that he is close friends with Dudi Sela and Jonathan Erlich. Sela, who used to be ranked in the top 30, is now 81 in the world. Erlich, a Buenos Aires native who grew up in Israel, was once a highly ranked doubles player, winning the 2008 Australian Open with another Israeli, Andy Ram.

"We ... always speak about everything," he said of Sela and Erlich.

He’s the third best player from South America.

Being one of the best players in South America, a region known for producing top tennis talent, is no easy feat. The only players currently ranked higher than Schwartzman from his continent are Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay, ranked 24th, and fellow Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, No. 32, who won the U.S. Open title in 2009 (and at 6-6 is nearly a foot taller than his countryman).

His favourite pastime is … watching soccer?

Schwartzman may play tennis almost daily, but that doesn’t mean he loves watching it. He told JTA that his fondest memories outside of the tennis court come from watching his favourite soccer team, the Boca Juniors, at the famous Bombonera Stadium in Buenos Aires. Not surprisingly, he's a big fan of Lionel Messi the star of Barcelona.

 

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