TORONTO — Former Canadian tennis player Jesse Levine may want to return to his country of birth more often, following his memorable debut at the recent Rogers Cup tournament, held at Rexall Centre.
Ranked 123rd prior to the tournament, 20-year-old Levine won three consecutive matches – two in a qualifying round – before almost upsetting Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal. Along the way, Levine was buoyed by cheers from fans, eager to witness a victorious homecoming for the Ottawa-born player, who now resides in Boca Raton, Florida.
Levine went to school in Ottawa at Hillel Academy and took tennis lessons at the Ottawa Athletic Club. By age 13, he felt he could become a Canadian tennis star one day.
But then Levine’s world changed after his younger brother was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The family was told he needed to move to a warmer climate to treat the illness. The Levines moved to Florida a few weeks following Jesse’s bar mitzvah at Agudath Israel Congregation in Ottawa.
“I wasn’t sure what to think. I knew we had to move for the sake of my brother, but knew I would miss my friends and family in Ottawa,” said Levine.
The move to Florida was a blessing for young Jesse to grow as an aspiring tennis player. He honed his skills first at the Chris Evert Tennis Academy before moving to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton in 2004.
By age 17, Levine was blossoming in tennis, winning the junior Wimbledon boys doubles championship in 2005 and earning a tennis scholarship at the University of Florida. After finishing his freshman year with a 24-1 record, Levine turned pro in 2007 and never looked back.
He has won a few tournaments this year in the Challenger circuit, but started to emerge as a major player at Wimbledon, winning qualifying round matches and finishing in the second round of the main draw.
But winning his matches with dramatic flair at the Rogers Cup made the experience unforgettable.
“I saw so many friends and family that I haven’t seen in years and hearing them cheer for me in my matches is an experience I will never forget,” said Levine.
Levine showed his ability to fight for every point in his four matches, opening with a 6-1, 6-7 (2), 6-3 win over Korean Woon Sun Jun, then rallying for his 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6) victory against German Benjamin Becker and a stunning defeat of Canadian Peter Polansky of Thornhill 6-2, 6-4 before losing in dramatic fashion to Nadal 6-4, 6-2 to finish in the round of 32.
“I felt my nerves a bit and did not execute as aggressively as I planned. Before the sixth game, I was in a zone, not sure of where I really was and then realized that I was playing the Wimbledon champion. I fought hard – as I had in all my other matches – but it was not enough against Nadal,” said Levine.
“Nadal doesn’t make many mistakes, so it’s tough to beat him. But I feel that I will continue to improve as we play more matches. I proved to myself this week that I can compete well against the top players.”
“He (Levine) played aggressively and I was very impressed. He has a bright future and at 20, can only get better,” said Nadal following the match.
Levine’s victories at the Rogers Cup raised his world ranking to 106th, ensuring that he will be able to enter the main draw of most tournaments.