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Inspired by idol Gabriela Sabatini, Diego Schwartzman solves Wimbledon grass with Olympic debut on horizon
The No. 9 seed has won seven of his last 10 grass-court matches after a bumpy start on the surface.
Published Jun 30, 2021
If the key to grass-court tennis is staying low, then the 5’7” Diego Schwartzman is already halfway there, and yet, for his first few years as a top-flight tennis player, the grass swing was less of a symphony and more of an interlude. It was something to suffer through after a typically satisfying clay-court campaign and triumphant return home to his beloved Argentina.
And suffer may indeed be an understatement. Without any junior experience to acclimate him, he lost his first seven matches on the surface. Three years removed from his first grass-court win, the Argentine has won seven of his last 10, and is into the third round of Wimbledon for the second edition in a row after overcoming hometown favorite Liam Broady in four sets.
“Once I won my first match on grass, I’ve really grown to like it,” he told me on Tuesday. “I think it’s also a challenge, playing a few tournaments on the surface each year, combined with the preparation and everything. For us, it’s not very easy because after two months in Europe for the clay season, we usually come back to Argentina, so the preparation before Wimbledon isn’t always the best.”
Schwartzman eagerly awaited that overdue trip home this year after a brutal run of clay-court results; the anticipation alone seemingly helped him reverse a four-match losing streak and return to the quarterfinals of Roland Garros.
The global pandemic unfortunately intervened and forced him to postpone his vacation plans one more time.
“The situation in Argentina isn’t good right now with COVID-19, so it’s not easy to come back to Europe from there. I decided instead to practice in Mallorca where they had the tournament for a few days.
“I’ll go back home after Wimbledon. It’s already been four months here, traveling. It was the same thing last year: I traveled through Europe for four months and went home after the Masters in London. Now I’ll do it again. I really need it for my mind and my mental health! In the meantime, I hope to be here for many days.”
Schwartzman indeed appears primed for a long stay at the All England Club, starting with a decisive drubbing of the mercurial Benoit Paire. Down a set to Broady on Wednesday, the 28-year-old held off a fourth-set fightback to book a third-round clash with Marton Fucsovics, who upset No. 19 seed Jannik Sinner to open the fortnight. In their only previous encounter, Schwartzman won in five sets two years ago in Paris.
Every competition we play for Argentina is very important, but the Olympics are most important for the country. We have a very good Olympic tradition, and I want to be there to enjoy, play under my flag. Diego Schwartzman
With a career-best Wimbledon finish in his grasp, Schwartzman next aims to make the most of a highly anticipated Olympic debut.
“I’m very excited to be there because it’ll be my first time. I was very close to making it there in Rio, but Juan Martin Del Potro and Juan Monaco used their protected rankings. I’m going to enjoy and be there, hopefully win a few matches for my country. My main priority will be to enjoy the experience as much as I can, and I hope to make it back for a few more Olympic Games in the future.
“For us, being Argentinean and being sportspeople, we love any opportunity to play for our flag, for our country. Every competition we play for Argentina is very important, but the Olympics are most important for the country. We have a very good Olympic tradition, and I want to be there to enjoy, play under my flag. I want to be able to support all of the sports with Argentine competitors, if I can.”
Schwartzman has the added benefit of a former Olympic medalist firmly in his corner; the 2020 French Open semifinalist is in frequent contact with Gabriela Sabatini, who won a silver medal at the Soeul Games in 1988 and often delights him on social media with heartfelt shout-outs.
“She’s one of the idols of Argentina,” he beams. “It’s nice. We have a very good relationship with her. We talk many times after my matches and after tournaments. She’s not living in Argentina full-time—she stays there a few months out of the year—so we’re not seeing each other too much in person. We talk through social media and Whatsapp with the phone, it’s good to have contact with her.”
Whether it’s Tokyo or Wimbledon, where he is the last Argentine standing, Schwartzman is eager to fly the flag and emerge from this summer swing standing tall—with a result worthy of national pride.