By Emily Burack
I was never the best tennis player. Still, I stuck with tennis through my junior year of high school, when I was unceremoniously cut from the varsity team.
Even though my active participation in the sport dwindled to practically nothing as I got older, I remain an avid viewer of professional tennis. I cheer on Serena
Williams on her path to 24 Grand Slams. I love watching young Coco Gauff and
But there’s one player that makes me genuinely emotional to watch: Diego Schwartzman. He’s a Jewish tennis player from Argentina, and in 2019 he made it into the top 20.
Schwartzman looks like every boy I went to high school with. He wears his hat backwards. He might as well have been one of the boys we would crush on at summer camp. He even wears summer camp bracelets when he plays. In other words, I feel like I know him, even though I definitely do not.
There aren’t that many super successful Jewish athletes. There’s Aly Raisman, an Olympic gymnast, who performed a floor routine to “Hava Nagila.” There’s Julian Edelman, who in 2019 became the first Jewish Super Bowl MVP. There’s Sue Bird, one of the greatest U.S. basketball players. There’s Amar’e Stoudemire, an NBA All-Star who converted to Judaism and now plays pro basketball in Israel.
But all these stars feel superhuman. They are or have been at the pinnacle of their sports, Schwartzman isn’t. He is still a superhuman tennis player (he is very, very fast, and returns practically everything). But Diego Schwartzman is exactly the representation I crave. He has yet to win a Grand Slam, and may never win one. But he is trying his best, and he’s making it pretty far into tournaments. He’s losing to the best men’s players of all time (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer), and they are close matches. He’s a top-20 player, which is insane.
Yet even though he’s this world-class athlete, he seems so relatable.
Every anecdote I read about Schwartzman is downright delightful. Like this, from the French Open in 2018: “Yet though he may be small of stature, everybody on the men’s tour has always known Schwartzman has the biggest heart.” Or this Australian Open tweet: “He may be small in stature but he has a giant heart and work ethic.” (I’ll get to his “small stature” in a bit.) Or the fact that he won the U.S. Open Sportsmanship Award in 2019, along with Naomi Osaka, for being a “true role model” and inspiration.
In an interview he gave recently, he said: “Soy una persona muy tranquila en cuanto a la religión y trato de respetar a todos. Soy recontra comprensivo. A cada uno le gusta una cosa o la otra, lo primero que tiene que haber es respeto.” (Rough translation: “I am a very calm person in terms of religion and I try to respect everyone. I am always understanding. Everyone likes one thing or another, but the first thing has to be respect.”)
He was even looking for a “Nice Jewish Girl” during the 2019 Miami Open.That was almost a year ago; he now seems to be dating Argentine model Euge De Martino. But back to why I love Diego Schwartzman.
When Schwartzman was 13 years old, a doctor told him he would never be taller than 5-7. He came home and told his parents he was going to quit tennis. His mom convinced him otherwise. His friends and family called him “El Peque” — Shorty — and the nickname has stuck.
That never-quit attitude has remained with Schwartzman throughout his career. Schwartzman is unique on the men’s tennis tour because of his height. His official bio says he is 5-7, even though many tennis reporters and fans have said he is much likely shorter.
“The only Diego Schwartzman height talk worth continuing is height truthering, because he is definitely *not* 5-7 … which makes his success even more remarkable,” Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times tweeted in September.
Rothenberg believes Schwartzman is 5-4 1/2, a fact that would make his continued success even more amazing. (The official U.S. Open website listed him as 5-5 in an article calling him “The big short.” We see you, U.S. Open!) Schwartzman is the highest-ranked player to stand 5-7 or shorter since Harold
Solomon, also Jewish, was No. 10 in 1981.
In major tennis tournaments, after winning, the victor typically has to give an on-court interview in which they are asked about the match and their possible next opponent. Schwartzman is typically self-deprecating.
When asked if he enjoys beating players much taller than him, Schwartzman replied, “No, no, no. Maybe for you, I don’t know. It’s classic for me. I think for the people, it’s helping to be with me on court. They see the small one and the big one, they are going with the small one.”
When Schwartzman beat the 6-8 Kevin Anderson at the French Open in 2018, he told his interviewer with a smile, “Did you read David and Goliath?”
Schwartzman is proof that short people, Jewish or otherwise, can be world-class athletes. When so much of sports can be dependent on how you were born (like Michael Phelps’ wingspan, which is 3 inches more than his height), Schwartzman’s continued success proves that sports can also just be how much you want it.
This article originally appeared on Alma.