I have a history of admiring players who have had to fight against the grain for different reasons, Tim Henman, Michael Chang, Serena Williams……you get the picture! Diego Schwartzman fits the bill perfectly! Standing at 5’7 and going up against counterparts who are considerably taller (some more than a foot) and quite often getting the better of them! Tenacious is a word I would use to describe this plucky Argentine, he is a fighter, full of energy and he is now storming up the rankings as a result! He was born and resides in Buenos Aires and is currently coached by ex-player Juan Ignacio Chela.
A quick look at social networking shows his love of family, friends, football (he is a big Boca Juniors fan) and of course his tennis. Diego comes across as a very humble guy who appreciates the values in life. A player that goes out of his way for fans as I found out at the US Open, when after fulfilling a tonne of requests either media interviews, photos or autographs, he still took time out even though being walked by security to have a quick snap with me….the strange looking guy with a ponytail!
What is interesting, is that he only played one junior event outside of South America (US Open qualies) and built his way up through the futures in Argentina and occasionally Brazil), as money wasn’t always readily available. With success, he obviously moved further afield but the point is, it gave him his grounding and one that I admire wholeheartedly.
2012-2014 saw Schwartzman making the transition to Challengers and then to the main tour, breaking into the top one hundred in 2014, finishing the year at 61. When you consider that Federer and Djokovic were his two losses in the majors that season, he was given another grounding and one that he looks to have embraced. 2015 was a season of consolidation where he extended Roger Federer to three sets in their Istanbul semi, but by 2016 people were starting to take note. The Argentine won his first tour title on clay in Istanbul, coming back from the brink of defeat and bageling Grigor Dimitrov in the decider! He also had wins over Mahut, Fritz, Cuevas and Goffin before losing to Gasquet in the final on the indoor hard in Antwerp.
This season has just gone from strength to strength for the 25-year-old though, which now sees him currently as high as 26 in the rankings. I remember watching him in Buenos Aires against Kei Nishikori and thinking he was close to causing some damage, though he lost 5/7 6/2 6/2 it was even tighter than the scoreline suggested! For me, he is more equipped mentally now and has improved in this area immensely in that short space of time, an aspect of his game he says he has been working on. Beating Khachanov and Ferrer in Miami gave us a glimpse of what was about to follow on the US Swing in later months. He made his first Masters Series quarter-final in Monte Carlo beating Bautista Agut on his way to defeat against Rafa. After a gutsy 9/7 win in the decider against Andrey Rublev and a straight sets win over Italian Stefano Napolitano, he set up a third-round encounter with Novak Djokovic at the French Open. He left the court that day to a standing ovation from both the crowd on the Phillipe Chatrier and his opponent, despite losing in five sets, such was the quality of his tennis.
I also remember thinking in Hamburg, where he lost to Florian Mayer that he was playing some good stuff, Mayer was just playing very well. From Montreal though, he really has started to kick-on, a victory of Dominic Thiem on his way to the quarters was followed by a spectacular run in New York. I saw him beat Charly Berlocq in the first round in New York and grabbed my photo opportunity then! A victory over Janko Tipsarevic followed, before taking out former champ Marin Cilic and then showing unbelievable heart in beating Lucas Pouille, when it looked like he might have to retire with a leg injury. Though his backhand is his strongest side there was no doubt that his forehand was causing just as much damage. He lost to Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarter-finals but became the smallest player at that stage of a slam for 23 years, when Peruvian Jaime Yzaga did likewise. 5’7 Yzaga beat Sampras for the record!
Diego is a highly entertaining player to watch, he is happy to be patient but has that ability to rip a winner and bring the crowd to their feet. His fighting and battling qualities only endear him more to everyone and I’m not alone in hoping his ranking continues to rise. People should take inspiration from his career and what he is currently achieving. I have seen that his nickname is El Peque (the small one) but remember looks can deceiving!
Andy Del Potro