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Jewish tennis players shine at the Rogers Cup

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Denis Shapovalov competes at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in August. (Vidal Keslassy photo)

Both 19-year-old Jewish tennis players Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Diego Schwartzman of Argentina shined at the 2018 Rogers Cup tournament, by finishing in the third round.

Although both players fared better at the 2017 Rogers Cup in Montreal, when Shapovalov made headlines by defeating top-ranked Rafael Nadal, en route to a semi-final finish, and Schwartzman finished as a quarter-finalist, both men had impressive performances before losing in the third round.

Shapovalov – the highest-ranked Canadian at the Rogers Cup, which ended on Aug. 12 – defeated Jeremy Chardy of France, 6-1, 6-4, and Italian Fabio Fognini of Italy, 6-3, 7-5, before sellout crowds at the Aviva Centre in Toronto.

Shapovalov dominated Chardy and Fognini with his powerful serves and forehands. But he did not serve well in his third round match and lost to Robin Haase of the Netherlands, 7-5, 6-2, earning $66,490 at the tournament.

READ: ISRAELI WOMAN WINS QUEBEC TENNIS TOURNAMENT

“I feel good about playing in my home town before so many supporters, and their enthusiasm has definitely helped me,” said Shapovalov, following his two victories.

“There is no doubt that Shapovalov is, and will be, a star in pro tennis for many years to come. Although he did not fare as well as in last year’s Rogers Cup, Denis had an outstanding year and is more confident in his ability to challenge top players than he was a year ago,” said Sportsnet tennis commentator Jesse Levine, another Jewish-Canadian tennis player, during the broadcast of Shapovalov’s matches.

Following last year’s Rogers Cup, Shapovalov went on to finish in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open, and made it to the semi-finals at both the Delray Beach and Madrid tournaments, elevating his current ranking to No. 26.

Shapovalov, the son of Soviet immigrants, was born in Tel Aviv in 1999. His mother, Tessa Shapovalova, who is Jewish, wanted to emigrate to Israel, despite being an elite tennis player in the Soviet Union.

Diego Schwartzman competes at the Eastbourne International tournament in 2017. (si.robi/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Although my husband, Viktor, is Greek Orthodox and not Jewish, he was just as eager as I was to go to Israel,” said Shapovalova, who competed in tennis tournaments in Israel and also coached Israeli youngsters while she was there.

“We decided to move to Toronto, Canada, before Denis was one, because it was too dangerous to continue living in Israel,” said Shapovalova.

After moving here, she taught tennis for 10 years at the Richmond Hill Tennis Club north of Toronto, before opening her own academy called Tessa Tennis, in Vaughn, Ont. She taught her son his powerful one-handed backhand, as well as his serve.

Schwartzman, the highest-ranking Jewish tennis player on the pro-tennis circuit (No. 12), defeated Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-2, and American Sam Querrey, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, before losing to Croatian Marin Cilic, 6-3, 6-2, in the third round.

At 168 cm, Schwartzman is the shortest of all the top-ranked players and has success against tall players, such as Querrey, because of his speed, strong forehands and ability to break the service games of his opponents.

“I relish being persistent and having the ability to break down the top players in tennis who are taller than me,” said Schwartzman.

Schwartzman played tennis for Argentina at the Maccabiah Games in 2009 and has represented his country at the Davis Cup since 2015.

Both Schwartzman and Shapovalov are now competing at the Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati. Their next stop will be the U.S. Open in New York at the end of the month.