MIAMI — It’s the dream of every professional tennis player to play for his nation’s Davis Cup national team, and Ottawa-born Jesse Levine has taken bold steps to make this dream come true.
Levine, who has lived in Boca Raton, Fla., since age 13 and played tennis as an American through last November, applied in December to the International Tennis Federation to be allowed to play for the Canadian Davis Cup team.
Under International Tennis Federation rules, Levine will have to wait 90 days for his application to be accepted, so he won’t be eligible to play the Davis Cup tie versus Spain from Feb. 1 to 3 in Vancouver. However, he will practise with the Canadian Davis Cup team.
“I am excited to play for my home country Canada, even if I can’t play in February,” said the 25-year-old Levine on a phone conference call with reporters from the Auckland, N.Z., tournament that he is playing. Levine is Canada’s second-highest-ranked singles player (at No. 104) and will play for Canada at its tie in April.
“We are pleased that Jesse will play for Canada,” said Tennis Canada president Michael Downey. “Jesse will strengthen our Davis Cup team as our second-ranked singles player. Being a lefty and having the experience of playing tough against top players adds depth to our roster.”
“This is a wonderful opportunity not only because I want so much to play Davis Cup, but now I may have an opportunity of being in the Olympics as well. I am at heart a Canadian. I love the Ottawa Senators hockey team, I know the other Canadians since I played them in the junior level and everything feels right,” added Levine.
He was also elated to learn that he would become the first Jewish player to play on the Canadian Davis Cup team since Derek Segal, also from Ottawa, did it in 1988. With Toronto native Sharon Fichman likely to play in the 2013 Fed Cup, the two are set to become the first Jewish man and woman to play Davis and Fed Cups in the same year since Mike Belkin (Montreal) and Vicky Berner (Vancouver) did it in 1968.
“It means a lot to be the first Jewish player on Davis Cup for Canada in so many years. I went to a Hebrew day school in Ottawa, feel proudly Jewish and look forward to play soon,” Levine said.
Since turning pro in 2007, Levine has been invited several times by Canadian Davis Cup coach Martin Laurendeau to join the team, but he had declined until last December, feeling loyal to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which funded his coaching and training since he moved to Florida in 2000.
“The USTA has given me so many opportunities with wild cards into tournaments [and] practising with the Davis Cup team that I felt for so long that my prospects should remain with the U.S.A. But I wanted to play Davis Cup and so it made sense to play for Canada,” he said.
As a youth, Levine took tennis lessons at the Ottawa Athletic Club and attended school at Hillel Academy. He was all set to improve his tennis locally. But the family doctor found that Jesse’s younger brother, Daniel, had colitis, so a few weeks following Jesse’s bar mitzvah at Agudath Israel Congregation in Ottawa, the family moved to Boca Raton.
Because Levine’s father is American, Levine had the option of joining either the American or Canadian Davis Cup teams. Ironically, the move to Florida turned out to be a blessing for Jesse as well. Levine continued to hone his tennis game by going to the Chris Evert Tennis Academy and later to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
Living in a city with a year-round climate ideally suited for a tennis pro, Levine has blossomed as a well-rounded player. Winning a scholarship at University of Florida, Levine won 24 matches as a freshman in 2007 before turning pro. However, the odds of Levine earning a berth on the American Davis Cup have always been slim. Even with the retirement of Andy Roddick last November, there are currently six Americans ranked ahead of him for only two singles players to join doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan on the four-player U.S. Davis Cup team.
By contrast, Canadian coach Laurendeau prefers to have three singles players on his Davis Cup team to join doubles specialist Daniel Nestor. Levine would then be assured of a berth on the Canadian Davis Cup team in April, even if his ranking falls below that of current third-ranked Canadian Vasek Pospisil, ranked No. 125 by the ATP.
Levine’s fortunes continue to rise. After finishing in the quarter-finals at the Auckland tournament, he is currently ranked among the top 100 in the world.