NEW YORK – Three years ago, a young, relatively unknown tennis player from Argentina sat with a curious Jerusalem Post reporter in the Media Center of the US Open. Despite his at-the-time recently-achieved career high ranking of No. 61 (he is now ranked 28th in the world), few reporters were interested in Diego Schwartzman.
Schwarzman, then 23, was engaging, polite, always-smiling and happy to speak about his family, Jewish upbringing in Argentina, love of soccer and, of course, tennis.
Schwartzman stands 5-foot-7-inches (1.7 meters), and is known affectionately by the Argentinian Jewish community as “el Peque” (the small). He started playing tennis and soccer at seven years old at Club Nautico Hacoaj, a Jewish sports club in Buenos Aires.
Schwartzman and his three older siblings – brothers Andres and Matias and sister Natali – all played soccer, attended Hebrew school and celebrated their bar and bat mitzvas.
By the age of 13, Diego focused exclusively on tennis.
“I did not have time for Hebrew school because of tennis,” said Schwartzman, though he noted that he and his family “respect Jewish traditions” and occasionally attend synagogue.
In many ways, Schwartzman is a typical Argentine young adult. He enjoys sports, hanging out with friends, listening to music and going to bars on the weekends. But unlike friends who have already attended university, Schwartzman’s desire to study management and public affairs will have to wait.
His professional tennis career is really taking off.
By the end of this year’s extraordinarily successful US Open, the 25-year-old Schwarzman was a household name among tennis fans, and members of the press from around the world filled a large interview room almost daily to ask questions – both in English and Spanish press conferences – about his stunning come-from-behind victories against top players – and about being the shortest player by far in the top 50.
What a difference three years and a tremendous twoweek run at a Grand Slam tennis tournament makes.
Schwartzman arrived at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, a few days before the August 28 start of the US Open.
In a post-practice interview with The Jerusalem Post in the player’s garden, Schwartzman discussed his past year on the ATP Tour, some changes to his team, and what it might take to “go deep” in a major tournament.
Schwartzman clearly had no expectation of advancing to the quarterfinals of the impending major.
“I think I have improved a lot in many things. I am really focused, both inside the court and outside the court,” he said.
He is pleased with his recent progress.
“This year was really good so far. I played really good. I made lots of quarterfinals and some semifinals, but I still need to improve a few things, like the physical and recovery after matches.”
Schwarzman lost a high-profile five setter to Novak Djokovic at the French Open earlier this year.
Then came the US Open, where Schwartzman surprised even himself, taking out a number of giants in rapid succession, including fellow countryman Carlos Berlocq (6-2, 6-1, 6-3), Serbian Janko Tipsarevic (6-2, 6-4, 7-5), fifth-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia (4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-4), and No. 16 Lucas Pouille of France (7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2) in his first career Grand Slam fourth round.
Schwartzman remained a gentleman throughout the tournament, consistently sharing kind words about his opponents. Following the Cilic match, Schwartzman shook hands and apologized.
“I just said nice words for him, because he’s a big-time player as well as a really good guy.”
Prior to facing Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarterfinals, Schwartzman noted, “It’s going to be really nice for me. I am really happy to be in the quarterfinals this year. I am excited to play Pablo since he’s my friend off the court. We have a good relationship in the locker rooms, and we share a lot of things outside the tennis life.”
Schwartzman ultimately lost to Carreno Busta (6-4, 6-4, 6-2) before an enthusiastic capacity crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium, chanting “Vamanos” (let’s go”) and the soccer chant, “Ole Ole Ole.”
Shwartzman’s storied run in New York earned him $470,000 and raised his profile and popularity in the tennis world. (Prior to the US Open, he earned $828,051 in 2017 and had total career prize money of $2,221,962).
Now, he is off to Kazakhstan where he will be a member of the Argentinian Davis Cup Team as it squares off against Kazakhstan in the September 15-17 World Group Play-Offs.
A long-awaited first trip to Israel will still have to wait.
“I am good friends with Dudi Sela and I really want to go to Israel. I almost got to go for the Maccabiah this year!” Whether or not he makes it to the Holy Land in the near future, the future is bright for Schwartzman, and with his play and attitude he is sure to garner more fans and admirers in the Jewish world and beyond.
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