When Diego Schwartzman was asked earlier this year what he did with his first significant paycheques earned on the Tour, he said that he “saved a lot” and then “started to go on holidays”. Typically at this time of year, the 28-year-old Argentine is on holiday. But this year he has to work. The workweek for the man who is nicknamed “El peque” (shorty in Spanish) starts on Monday against Novak Djokovic in an office he’s never worked at before: The O2 in London.
Schwartzman was candid Friday in admitting that he didn’t fancy his draw, and he’ll enter Monday’s showdown with a career 0-5 mark with no sets won on hard courts versus the Serb. But Diego comes from a long line of survivors who have beaten the odds. He’s the great-grandson of a Polish Jew who escaped from a train headed to a concentration camp during World War Two and ultimately made his way to Argentina. As a junior in Buenos Aires, he trained at Club Náutico Hacoaj, a sports club that was founded by and for Jews who were prohibited from playing at other local clubs because of their faith. The Schwartzmans were a family of modest means, and so his mother financed some of his travels and training by selling jewellery and trinkets at junior tournaments. At 5’7” in a sport full of giants, he knows a thing or two about beating the odds.
Before facing Djokovic in Rome earlier this year, he said, perhaps not too hyperbolically, that he’d need to “play more than my 100% to beat Novak”. On Friday, he gave himself a more modest goal for Monday’s encounter.
“Against Nole, you have to always play your 100%,” said Schwartzman, who currently has a career high FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 8. “It’s hard to think of something else, or try to be tactically better than him, or try to do winners. You just have to walk on court trying to play your 100%, and maybe if he’s not in his best day, you’re going to have a few opportunities… But always the first match is difficult for every single player, so I hope to have opportunities in the match and for sure I’m going to try to take them.”
It’s been a year of firsts for the scrappy Argentine. He’s notched his first Top 5 win, his first ATP Masters 1000 final, first major semi-final appearance, and made his debut in the Top 10, among other accomplishments. But beating five-time Nitto ATP Finals champ Novak Djokovic would be his most impressive first of the season. The Serb has been lethal at the event, racking up a 36-14 career record over 13 appearances with titles in 2008 and 2012-2015.
Diego and Novak have never squared off on an indoor court before. Historically, the Serb has thrived indoors while Schwartzman has struggled. But the Buenos Aires native played well indoors in Cologne recently, beating Felix Auger-Aliassime in the semi-final before getting smacked down by Alexander Zverev. He then notched a couple of solid wins indoors in Bercy, over Richard Gasquet and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina before losing to eventual champion Daniil Medvedev. The bad news is he’ll have to face both Zverev and Medvedev later on in his potentially brutal workweek.
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To make matters worse, Djokovic said on Friday that he feels highly motivated but also has less pressure this year since he’s already clinched year-end No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. That may be ominous news for Diego, but Djokovic said that he’s not taking Schwartzman for granted.
“He never played on this court but that probably is kind of releasing him from any pressure that he has to do well,” said Djokovic, 33, who can tie Roger Federer’s record six Nitto ATP Finals titles and break his record as the oldest winner with a win this week. “Diego is in great form this year, it’s been the best season of his life, he deserves to be part of this tournament. I have lots of respect for him, he’s a fierce competitor [and] one of the quickest players on the Tour.”
As tempting as a vacation with his girlfriend, Eugenia De Martino, an Argentine model, may be for him, Schwartzman didn’t sound like a man who was in a hurry to go off duty just yet.
“Usually at this time, I was always on holidays, and now I’m practising more than ever trying to beat the best guys on Tour,” he said. “So I’m very excited, I’m trying to enjoy every single moment here, but also I’m trying to work really hard. I have the opportunity to continue doing a good season.”
Source: Tennis – ATP World Tour