Jewish Argentine tennis star Diego Schwartzman is currently rolling at the Australian Open. After beating Serbian Dušan Lajović in straight sets on Friday, he has made it into the round of 16 for the second time in his career. He has yet to drop a set in the entire tournament.
In the middle of the action, the ATP Tour website published an essay of his (as told to writer Andrew Eichenholz), that begins by talking about how his height — he’s listed at 5’7″, but many think he is shorter than that — doesn’t define him as an athlete.
“When I walk onto a tennis court, I don’t think about how tall I am or how much bigger my opponent is. I know there is a difference, but so what? Maybe if I was 10 or 15 centimetres [sic] taller, I’d have a better serve or be able to hit with more power. But my height isn’t going to change,” he writes.
But Schwartzman soon gets into discussing his family.
First he writes about the perseverance of his parents, who couldn’t really afford for him to play tennis — his mom would sell bracelets in between his matches to help fund their travels. As a kid, he viewed it as a game, but now he recognises how difficult it was for his parents to support him.
“Whatever happens in my career doesn’t compare to what my parents endured,” Schwartzman writes.
And, “all of that pales in comparison to what my ancestors went through.”
His maternal great-grandfather, who was from Poland, was put on a train to a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Somehow, the coupling that connected the cars of the train he was on broke, and the car Schwartzman’s great-grandfather was in stayed behind. He ran for his life and escaped without being caught.
“My great grandfather brought his family by boat to Argentina. When they arrived, they spoke Yiddish and no Spanish. My father’s family was from Russia, and they also went to Argentina by boat. It wasn’t easy for all of them to totally change their lives after the war, but they did,” Schwartzman continued. “So from my ancestor escaping a train on its way to a concentration camp to staying in tiny hotel rooms and selling bracelets, I consider myself lucky.”
Now, Schwarzman, nicknamed “El Peque” (shorty), is one of the most prominent Argentine Jews.
“I am Jewish and in Argentina, we have many Jewish [people] there, and all the people there know me,” he said in 2017.
Next up for El Peque? He’s set to face defending Australian Open champ Novak Djokovic in the fourth round. Djokovic has won all three of their previous match-ups.