It’s been nine years since Sharon Fichman of Toronto was touted as Canada’s biggest tennis star since Carling Bassett.
Fichman won the prestigious Orange Bowl junior title in in 2003 at age 13, but has since not lived up to the lofty expectations that many had for her. After turning pro in 2007, Fichman has struggled to win on the minor league Challenger pro tennis circuit.
But Fichman has established a level of consistency in 2012, winning two tournaments to go along with five runner-up finishes and two semifinal berths for her best year as a pro to date.
Fichman improved from a low ranking of 239 on July 9 to her current world ranking of 153 by playing at a high level, defeating higher-ranking opponents and boosting her confidence. She has compiled a 42-26 record in 2012 to add to her career total of 198 wins and 127 losses.
“My results this year have made me feel that I can compete every day and do well. The Challenger circuit is tough, as each girl knows that every win or loss can make the difference between continuing a career in tennis or doing something else,” Fichman said after finishing as runner-up to fellow Canadian Eugenie Bouchard of Montreal at the Tevlin Challenger in Toronto Nov. 5.
“It was my goal when I turned pro to be ranked among the top 50 to 100 best players in the world, and I still think that it will happen.”
Known for her strong backhand ground strokes and quickness at the net, Fichman’s mental approach of fighting for every point has suited her well.
Her main handicap is her size, at 5-3, according to former pro tennis great Tracy Austin, who has seen Fichman compete at several Roger Cup tournaments.
“I think if Sharon had been from my era [1979-85], in which short players like myself, Chris Evert and Amanda Coetzer [at 5-2] all had great careers, her results would have been better. The pro circuit has many more tall players today, like Maria Sharapova [6-2], who has a great serve and a long reach at the net than was the case in the past,” Austin said in a phone interview.
“That of course does not mean that a short player can’t have a career in pro tennis. Justine Henin at 5-5 was a great champion, and Dominika Cibulkova at 5-3 is ranked No. 15 in 2012, so it can be done. But it’s rare for a short player to beat a tall player consistently, especially at the net, where a tall player’s reach can end a point,” Austin said.
“I am aware that a tall player has an edge, but I play the angles well and like to think that my quickness on the court means I can be more nimble than some players, so I can pull out victories by working hard on every point,” Fichman said.
Her speed has carried the day at her tournaments in 2012. Fichman won the $50,000 Waterloo Challenger in July by defeating five opponents in straight sets, including Julia Glushko of Israel 6-3, 6-2 in the title match.
She won her second title this year in August in Romania by defeating five opponents, including Romanian Patricia Marie 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2 in the final.
Fichman, who turned 22 on Dec. 3, was born in Toronto two years after her parents immigrated to Canada from Israel in 1988. Her parents arrived in Israel from Romania in 1983.
She started playing tennis at age five, following her brother Thomas, who was a top Canadian player in the 14-and-under age category.
In 2005, Fichman became the youngest athlete, at age 14, to win a gold medal at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. Fichman is also the first Jewish player to be selected to the Canadian national Fed Cup team (2005-present) since Vicki Berner of Vancouver played from 1963 to 1967.
To learn more about Fichman, go to www.tenniscanada.com.