Tennis star Diego Schwartzman serves up Tel Aviv review - interview

Argentine-Jewish tennis star Diego Schwartzman shared his thoughts with The Jerusalem Post after his maiden trip to Israel for a recent tournament.

Diego Schwartzman in action during the Tel Aviv Watergen Open. The 30-year-old from Argentina was thrilled to visit Israel for the first time. (photo credit: VIKTOR KULACHKIN/COURTESY)
Diego Schwartzman in action during the Tel Aviv Watergen Open. The 30-year-old from Argentina was thrilled to visit Israel for the first time.
(photo credit: VIKTOR KULACHKIN/COURTESY)

Diego Schwartzman, the highest-ranked Jewish tennis player in the world, finally made it to Israel.

He liked it so much that he can’t wait to come back and explore more.

The Argentina-born Schwartzman, 30 years old and the grandson of Holocaust survivors, is the 17th-ranked men’s player in the world. He briefly visited Israel over the past few weeks while participating in the Tel Aviv Watergen Open, which took place from September 26 to October 2. While Schwartzman did not have an opportunity to travel outside of Tel Aviv, he extensively explored the city on foot. And he loved it.

“I was surprised by Tel Aviv in a good way. I didn’t expect it to be so amazing. It is for sure one of my top-three best cities in the world.”

Diego Schwartzman

“I was surprised by Tel Aviv in a good way. I didn’t expect it to be so amazing. It is for sure one of my top-three best cities in the world,” Schwartzman shared with The Jerusalem Post via Zoom from his car in Buenos Aires.

Schwartzman, the tournament’s No. 3 seed (behind Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic) had a bye in the first round before losing to Arthur Rinderknech of France 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 and quickly returned to Argentina. He was enjoying a rare visit home where he was spending time at the mall playing games with nieces and nephews and looking forward to spending Yom Kippur with family in Buenos Aires. He planned to join them for synagogue services and break-fast.

Diego Schwartzman plays a shot against Stefanos Tsitsipas in his Laver Cup Tennis match. (credit: PETER VAN DEN BERG-USA TODAY SPORTS/VIA REUTERS)Diego Schwartzman plays a shot against Stefanos Tsitsipas in his Laver Cup Tennis match. (credit: PETER VAN DEN BERG-USA TODAY SPORTS/VIA REUTERS)

Schwartzman's expectations of Israel vs. reality

Schwartzman was still feeling excited and enthusiastic about his first visit to Israel.

“From what you see on TV, you expect different things,” said Schwarzman. “I walked on different days for a long time to almost every part of the city. That’s why I can tell you it’s an amazing city. There were so many amazing things – young people, so many bars, good restaurants, coffee places, green spaces like squares, and beaches – the combination of city and new and modern and old traditions. I liked the freedom of the young people and the way people live there.”

Schwartzman expected to see “more religious people” in Tel Aviv. He definitely interacted with observant Jews in Tel Aviv, but noted “some follow a religious lifestyle, but in a modern way.”

Schwartzman’s parents, Ricardo and Silvana, also visited Israel for the first time.

“My family got to go to Jerusalem. They got to take a very nice walk.”

Competing in the event definitely limited Schwartzman’s chances to be a tourist.

“I arrived Monday, on Rosh Hashanah, and you could feel Rosh Hashanah in the air – not too much was open Monday, or Tuesday or Friday or Shabbat. I had to play on Thursday.”

He has already studied the map and internet and has identified places he’d like to visit on a future visit.

“I want to come back as a tourist and visit other places. I see everything is close, like the Dead Sea and Haifa. Right now there is peace and no conflict. It is a good time to come. I will be back for sure!”

While Schwartzman – who reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 8 in the world in October 2020 – experienced an earlier-than-expected departure during the Tel Aviv Watergen Open, he was very impressed with the tournament’s organization and atmosphere.

“They did amazing work – they built the place [at Expo Tel Aviv] four days before the tournament and it was well organized.”

Schwartzman has had the greatest success on clay and would have preferred playing outdoors, in a stadium.

“It is difficult to have tournaments indoors.” He is hopeful that future tournaments will have “a bigger court one, more practice courts and maybe a bigger stadium.”

Schwartzman was pleased with the crowds and their enthusiasm in general and for him.

“Novak was there and people wanted to go see him,” said Schwartzman. “It was great to see a full stadium. The crowd was good and the support for me was amazing. I felt like I was at home. People were fighting for me.

“I had a match point and almost came back. I was not playing my best. That’s why I want to come back!”

Schwartzman had several other meaningful experiences at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open. He enjoyed seeing Israeli tennis friends, including Israel’s Davis Cup team member Edan Leshem and retired player Amir Weintraub.

“He beat me in the third round of the qualifiers at the Australian Open,” Schwartzman jokingly said of Weintraub.

Indeed, Weintraub defeated Schwartzman 6-3, 6-4 at the 2013 Australian Open qualifiers in Melbourne. Weintraub entered the main draw and lost in the second round. The two also got to know each other at the 2014 Davis Cup, when Israel played Argentina in Sunrise, Florida.

Schwartzman was also excited to learn about tournament sponsor Watergen’s products.

“The owner of Watergen showed me everything and how they take water from the air. It is crazy how this high tech keeps improving every year.”

He also had an opportunity to try playing tennis in a wheelchair with one of Israel’s all-time great wheelchair tennis players, Noam Gershony.

“I was very bad. I can’t move. I don’t know how they do it! When you try, you realize how difficult it is for them – not just to play but to move and hit how they do. It was nice to share a moment with wheelchair players.”

Schwartzman enjoyed his first taste of Israel. And he can’t wait to come back. Israel will be equally happy to welcome Schwartzman and his family back for a longer visit, and for now, will continue to take pride in his accomplishments on the court across the globe.