Ottawa-born Jesse Levine had the fans cheering for him in Montreal during the recent Rogers Cup tournament held at Uniprix Stadium, which concluded Aug. 11.
The 25-year-old Levine, who has lived in Boca Raton, Fla., since age 13 and played tennis as an American until last November, decided to play for the Canadian Davis Cup team this year.
Ranked number 113, Levine had no chance of earning a spot on the U.S. Davis Cup team. However, as a Canadian, he is the third-highest ranked singles player and earned a berth on the Canadian Davis Cup team earlier this year.
“I always dreamed of playing in the Davis Cup, so it was the right move for me to make and I am elated to play for Canada,” Levine said following his 6-4, 7-6 victory over Xavier Malisse of Belgium in the first round of the Rogers Cup.
“Playing as a Canadian was a big difference on the court. I had family and friends from Ottawa cheering me on. So for me, it was really special. The crowd was getting behind me at some crucial moments in the match,” he added.
Despite the fact that Malisse hit several aces, Levine positioned himself on the court to take advantage of long rallies that went his way. Levine broke in the third game to win the first set. The second set was more intense, with Levine going ahead 6-5 after Malisse made an unforced error into the net. Malisse broke Levine right back and forced a second set tiebreaker.
Being left-handed, Levine struck the ball deep against the weaker Malisse backhand for many points won in the tie-breaker, taking a 5-2 lead. He closed out his 7-4 win in the tiebreaker, celebrating with fist pumps to the jubilant crowd.
“I was trying to keep him [Malisse] on the move, because if he gets stuck in one spot, he really can overpower you. I was trying to not hit too many balls to his forehand, keep him on the run. He was hitting a bunch of aces. I was solid and got my chances and took advantage of them for the win,” Levine said.
Along with his debut on court as a Canadian, Levine reached another milestone, along with Sharon Fichman of Toronto (playing at the concurrent women’s tournament there), when the duo became the first Jewish Canadian man and woman to earn a berth in the second round of the Rogers Cup in the same year since 1969.
Mike Belkin of Montreal and Vicki Berner of Vancouver accomplished that in 1969 when the tournament was called the Canadian Open.
“Obviously, it’s special, because I am a proud Jew and hope to inspire others to do well in tennis. Also, Sharon and I are pretty good friends,” Levine said.
Upon learning of their accomplishment, Fichman responded, “That’s pretty cool, fantastic. It’s really exciting. I have so much respect for Jesse, We grew up in a similar era. He was playing Canadian tournaments and he and my brother used to compete as juniors and they would play each other a lot.
“Hopefully, we both can keep doing better and better and be an inspiration to other young Jewish Canadians in tennis.”
Levine’s next match was against former number 1 player Rafael Nadal of Spain, who would go on to win the tournament.
Nadal displayed his quick speed and powerful strokes in disposing of Levine in 72 minutes with a decisive 6-2, 6-0 victory, despite the crowd rooting for Levine.
“He [Nadal] really doesn’t let you go. Once he gets you under wrap, you’re in trouble. It’s tough,” Levine said.
As a youth, Levine took tennis lessons at the Ottawa Athletic Club and attended school at Hillel Academy and was all set to improve his tennis locally.
But the family doctor found that Jesse’s younger brother, Daniel, had colitis, and Levine and his family moved to Boca Raton for Daniel’s sake a few weeks after Jesse’s bar mitzvah at Agudath Israel Congregation in Ottawa.
Because Levine’s father is American, Levine had the option of joining either the American or Canadian Davis Cup teams.
The move to Florida turned out to be a blessing for Jesse as well. He continued to hone his tennis game by going to the Chris Evert Tennis Academy and later to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
With a year-round climate ideally suited to a tennis pro, Levine has blossomed into a well-rounded player. Winning a scholarship at the University of Florida, he won 24 matches as a freshman in 2007 before turning pro.
Despite being Canada’s third-ranked singles player, Levine probably won’t play in the Davis Cup in Serbia in late September. Canadian Davis Cup coach Martin Laurendeau prefers to have three singles players on his four-man Davis Cup team to join doubles specialist Daniel Nestor. Levine may play doubles with Nestor or be a fill-in for top Canadians Milos Raonic or Vasek Pospisil, should either of them be injured.
When Levine finally plays a match for the Canadian Davis Cup team, (he is on the roster, but has not yet played) he will become the first Canadian Jewish man to play Davis Cup since Andrew Sznajder in 1996.
Two other Jewish players, American Michael Russell and Israeli Amir Weintraub, also competed in the Rogers Cup tournament.
Weintraub, Israel's second-highest ranked player and ranked 206th, defeated Albert Ramos of Spain 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, and Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 7-6(8), 7-5 in the qualifying rounds, before losing to Pablo Andujar of Spain 6-1, 7-6(5) in the first round of the main draw.
Russell, ranked 94th, defeated Steven Diez of Toronto 6-1, 6-2 before losing 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 in the second qualifying round.