Meet Diego Schwartzman, the best Jewish tennis player on earth

Gabe Friedman

Diego Schwartzman

Diego Schwartzman practicing in Buenos Aires, Feb. 1, 2017. (Gabriel Rossi/LatinContent/Getty Images)

(JTA) — When Wimbledon starts next week, no other Jewish tennis player will be given a higher tournament seed than Diego Schwartzman.

The scrappy 24-year-old from Argentina, fresh off of an impressive five-set duel with perennial star Novak Djokovic at the French Open earlier this month, is currently the 37th best player in the world according to the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings. That easily makes him the best Jewish tennis player on the planet.

Schwartzman, who was raised in a Jewish family in Buenos Aires, has steadily risen through the tennis world since turning pro at 17. Between 2010 and 2012, he won nine tournaments in the International Tennis Federation — the minor leagues of professional tennis. He won his first ATP Tour title at the Istanbul Open last year, upsetting the highly ranked Grigor 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). But look for him to make some unexpected noise in the tournament on the heels of his confident performance against Djokovic.

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

He’s a celebrity in Argentina’s Jewish community

Schwartzman told the ATP last year that he is always recognized in 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. Passersby tell him, “Enjoy! Good luck this season. Come on, keep going!”

He didn’t go to Hebrew school in Buenos Aires, but Schwartzman told JTA over email that he tries to observe Jewish holidays on the pro tennis tour — although he admitted that it can be difficult.

He’s only 5’7”

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

Diego Schwartzman

Diego Schwartzman, left, being congratulated by Novak Djokovic after their thrilling five-set French Open match in Paris, June 2, 2017. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)

He has Israeli tennis friends

Schwartzman told JTA that he is close friends with Israeli tennis players Dudi Sela and Jonathan Erlich. Sela, who used to be ranked in the top 30, is now 81 in the world. Erlich, who was born in Buenos Aires but grew up in Israel, was once a highly ranked doubles player.

“We … always speak about everything,” he said.

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 Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas (24) and fellow Argentine Juan Martin del Potro (32), who won a U.S. Open title in 2009 (and at 6’6” is nearly a foot taller than his countryman).

His favorite pastime is … watching soccer?

Schwartzman may play tennis almost every day, but that doesn’t mean he loves watching it. He told JTA his fondest memories outside of the tennis court come from watching his favorite soccer team, the Boca Juniors, at the famous Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires. As Heavy points out, he’s unsurprisingly a big fan of Lionel Messi, Argentina’s world famous soccer star.

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