On Wednesday, Sept. 4, Diego Schwartzman, a Jewish tennis player from Argentina, faced Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of the US Open. Schwartzman came in as the clear underdog, and even though he didn’t come out victorious, he proved all the doubters wrong, posing a threat to Nadal for nearly three hours.
Though going up against one of the best tennis players in the world is certainly difficult, it’s far from the first challenge Schwartzman has had to overcome on his quest for greatness. He was born and currently resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At just 13 years old, Schwartzman quit tennis after he was told by his doctor he would never be taller than 5’7. But his mother Silvana, encouraged him to continue playing.
“He told me he wasn’t going to do anything well in life if the doctor was right,” Schwartzman’s mother said. “I told Diego he was wrong and his height shouldn’t have an influence on his dreams because since the day he was born, I knew he would become something special. I pushed him to keep fighting.” Since then, he hasn’t let his smaller frame impede his ability to play tennis at an elite level.
In his youth, Schwartzman played tennis at Club Náutico Hacoaj, a Jewish sport club in Buenos Aires that was established by and for Jews who were not allowed to join other sports clubs in the city in the early 20th century. Despite these obstacles, he is currently ranked 16 in the world by the ATP Rankings.
“I need to be aggressive, I need to be quick,” Schwartzman said in a televised interview just minutes prior to the quarterfinals. And he did just that, keeping Nadal on his toes, even though the final score may suggest otherwise. The crowd noticed, cheering him on and erupting after every point.
Nadal won the first few games, most of them seemingly with ease, but Schwartzman improved his play greatly throughout the first set. After losing the first four games, he bounced back, winning four consecutive games and undeniably shifting the momentum of the match. Despite Schwartzman’s efforts, Nadal won two consecutive games to close out the first set. The second set was extremely similar to the first, with Nadal taking an early lead, only to momentarily surrender it to Schwartzman. Nadal struggled to land some forehands, allowing Schwartzman to come back. Nadal eventually won the second set seven games to five and led two sets to none. Nadal then won the third and final set six to two, winning the match and advancing to the semi-finals of the US Open.
Schwartzman’s nickname is El peque, an abbreviation of the word “pequeño,” meaning Short in Spanish. Though short in stature, Schwartzman is long on talent and high on hope. He now even embraces his size, proven by his nickname that highlights it.
Though Schwartzman fell short advancing in the US Open, he’s left his mark as a Jewish athlete, and an exceptional one at that.
Hugo Vays is a freshman at Livingston High School in N.J.