Sports

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Fichman now hopes to compete for Canada at the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

A few curious fans watched the female tennis player with the Canada T-shirt warming up an hour prior to her doubles match on Court 9 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. She seems confident and clear in what she needs from Fritz, her strong male hitting partner. Another guy with a white sleeveless shirt, shorts and colorful shoes is holding a tennis racket and retrieving balls. Though no one knows who she is, the player is no stranger to the US Open.

Canadian-Israeli Sharon Fichman, 28, played in Flushing Meadows as a junior in 2006, where she reached the doubles finals with partner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  Fichman was ranked No. 5 in the junior circuit that year.  She played in the US Open qualifying tournament each year from 2009-2012, and she lost in the first round of the main draw in both 2013 and 2014. In 2014, she reached career-high rankings in singles (No. 77) and doubles (No. 48).  

Following a long period of absence from the tennis tour, Fichman was back in New York this year to compete in the US Open doubles tournament.  She and fellow Canadian Bianca Andreescu  (the eventual singles champion) lost in the first round to Americans Taylor Townsend and Whitney Osuigwe.

Fichman’s break from tennis and her dramatic return is a complex, moving love story which involves overcoming adversity and facing life’s challenges and opportunities with a partner.

Fichman spoke to The Jerusalem Post and explained that in March 2014 “there were a lot of things happening in my life… there was a big change in my coaching dynamic.”

Fichman described moving to Vancouver from Toronto to be with her coach, who relocated there for professional and personal reasons.  The relationship was unhealthy and unraveling.

“In hindsight, I probably should have changed the situation at the time, but unfortunately I didn’t. It got to the point where it led to overtraining, overplaying, poor scheduling, mental fatigue, injuries, surgeries.”

Fichman experienced multiple injuries and surgeries to her Achilles, ankle and knee.

“Looking back, I shouldn’t have been competing. It got to the point that I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I was in pain, mentally and physically. Every time I would come back, I would get injured again. I needed a break. I fell out of love [with tennis].”

Fichman decided to take a break from tennis in May 2016. She stayed in Vancouver, began building a life outside of tennis and entered into a serious relationship, which brought her back home to Toronto.

Once in Toronto, the relationship ended and Fichman was “focused on getting life together and finding a new passion outside of tennis.”

But ultimately she “fell back in love with tennis” and started taking coaching education courses, serving as a high performance coach and doing tennis commentary on television.

Fichman also fell back in love with a person.

“When I moved back to Toronto, Dylan [Moscovitch] got back in touch with me.

Fichman proceeded to describe the moving story of her relationship with Dylan Moscovitch, the accomplished 35-year-old retired pairs skater.

Moscovitch, who like Fichman is Jewish, competed with partner Kirsten Moore-Towers and was the 2013 Four Continents silver medalist, 2014 Olympic team event silver medalist, and 2011 Canadian national champion. He then competed with Liubov Ilyushechkina from 2014 to 2018 and together they won numerous prizes, including as the 2017 Four Continents bronze medalists, two-time bronze medalists on the Grand Prix series, and three-time Canadian national medalists (silver in 2015 and 2017, bronze in 2016).

Fichman’s relationship with Moscovitch started slowly.

“We met when I was 12, through his tennis-playing brother,’ she recounted. “We weren’t in each other’s lives… we sort of knew about each other and each other’s careers – we were both Jewish Canadian athletes.”

Fichman was born in Toronto to Jewish parents who moved from their native Romania to Israel before settling in Canada. She competed in the 17th Maccabiah Games in Israel at age 14 and won the gold medal in women’s singles. Moscovitch also had visited Israel on a Birthright program.

“We had each other on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Eventually he reached out, and asked me out a couple of times. Eventually I said yes. When we reconnected, the rest is history!”

They started dating in August 2017 and “hit the ground sprinting.”

Moscovitch’s life would soon change in unexpected ways.

In December 2017, he called Fichman just before she boarded a plane for a three-hour flight to Toronto. He was relaxing on a stretching mat after a gym workout.

“While we were on the phone together, a 200-pound mirrored door next to him unhinged and fell on him. He was knocked unconscious and suffered multiple facial lacerations, a cracked bone in his hand, multiple stitches in his right hand and was concussed for two months. What was horrible, is that I heard everything on the other end of the phone, not knowing whether or not he was dead or alive throughout the flight.”

Fichman described her flight as “the scariest three hours of my life.”

“Usually, Dylan closes his eyes while relaxing after his workouts. This time, since he was speaking on the phone, his eyes were open. Speaking with me saved him some serious head damage. If his eyes were closed, he wouldn’t have been able to react with his hand to help stop the majority of the impact.”

As a result of his injuries, Moscovitch retired from skating and was unable to participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

“He missed the opportunity to go to two Olympics, which was his goal – to go to two Olympics and medal.”

That missed opportunity is intimately connected to Fichman’s return to tennis.

“Dylan’s injury inspired me to come back because I wanted him to fulfill that dream. I decided after I heard [fellow Canadian tennis player] Gaby [Dabrowski]in a press conference mention something about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It inspired me to come back for Dylan.”

Fichman now hopes to compete for Canada at the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

“I had a bad break-up with tennis,” she noted. “I didn’t finish the sport in a way that left me feeling like I had a lot of love for it. This has given me an opportunity to play again and play on my terms and learn to love it.”

Fichman returned to tennis in doubles at the 2018 ITF event in Indian Harbour Beach and reached the quarterfinals with partner Jamie Loeb.

At this year’s US Open, when her practice session draws to a close, she sits in her chair next to hitting partner and the other guy who had been assisting on court. That man is Dylan Moscovitch.

Fichman opens up her tennis bag and takes out a hard case. She retrieves a shining diamond ring which she slips on to her finger. Fichman and Moscovitch got engaged in November 2018, and are planning their wedding in February 2021.

Moscovitch spends a great deal of time with Fichman on and off court, where he offers support and a great deal of insight and wisdom.

“Any athlete who competes later in life and takes a break has a certain perspective, which is a huge asset” said Moscovitch. “This lens helps her a lot on court, and to understand balance in life. I try to help with this philosophy.”

While the US Open may have ended early for Fichman, she and Moscovitch have Tokyo and married life to look forward to and their future is bright as the sun.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Nadal advanced to Friday’s semifinals, his eighth US Open final four.

Diego Schwartzman’s storied US Open run came to an end in the early hours of Thursday morning in three hard-fought sets against Rafael Nadal, with a final result of 6-4, 7-5, 6-2

The Spaniard had beaten Schwartzman all seven times they’ve played, including a straight-set win in the third round of the 2015 US Open. Schwartzman had won only two sets in the previous 17 against Nadal. The 27-year-old Argentine Jew, who beat Alexander Zverev to advance to the quarterfinals, was the only player to win a set off Nadal at the 2018 French Open, when Nadal went on to win his 11th Rolland Garros title.

While Nadal took Thursday’s match in straight sets, the match was not easy for the second seed. In the first two sets, Nadal raced to double-break leads. However, a number of misfires by the 33-year-old Spaniard allowed Schwartzman to get back into each set.

The momentum appeared to shift for Schwartzman in the seventh game of the second set. Down 5-1, Schwartzman broke Nadal twice to tie the score at five apiece. Prior to the match, Nadal’s serve had only been broken twice at Flushing medals; Schwartzman broke Nadal four times.

Following a difficult passing winner, the crowd stood and cheered, calling out Schwartzman’s name.  Schwartzman repeatedly pumped his fists toward the packed, Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd and, inspired by the fans’ enthusiasm, continued to fight.

“It crazy,” said Schwartzman. “It’s nice when it’s happening on court, the big points and when you win the big points. I took a lot of confidence after that point.”

Nadal held serve to go up 6-5 as the match clock topped two hours. Schwartzman served and saved three match points before going down 7-5.

The players stayed on serve in the third set before Nadal broke Schwartzman in game six to go up 4-2. While the match appeared to be winding down, Nadal showed signs of wear and tear, receiving treatment from the trainer on his left forearm.

Nadal mustered strength and came out fighting, winning nine of 10 points in games five through seven.  At 30-30 in the third set’s eighth game, Schwartzman hit long before hitting the final shot of the match into the net.

The old friends embraced at the net.  The crowd cheered the hard-working Schwartzman who stayed on court to sign autographs for late-night fans.

In the 1 a.m. media session, Schwartzman was asked to describe Nadal’s tenacity.

“He is like a lion in the middle, you know, in the jungle. He’s a fighter. He knows how to play the important moments every single time. I have played him eight times, and every important moment he played better than me!”

Nadal advanced to Friday’s semifinals, his eighth US Open final four, against 24th-seeded Italian Matteo Berrettini of Italy. The big-hitting Berrettini outlasted No. 13 Gael Monfils of France 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5) in Wednesday’s thrilling five-setter. 

The other men’s semi features No. 5 Daniil Medvedev vs Grigor Dimitrov, while on the women’s side, Serena Williams faces Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic takes on Bianca Andreescu.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Leading up to the US Open, Schwarzman spent August competing in the ATP Master’s 1000 in Canada, where he lost in the second round.

Diego Schwartzman was bolstered by the Spanish-chanting crowd on Tuesday night as he cruised to a relatively easy 6-3, 7-6(6), 6-0 victory in his first-round US Open match versus Robin Haase of the Netherlands.

The win was the 20th-seeded Schwartzman’s first in six meetings with Haase.

“We last played more than two years ago,” said the 27-year-old Jew from Argentina. “The time is different and I think I have improved a lot. I am a different player than two years ago. So I think that was the key.”

Schwartzman currently holds an ATP ranking of 21 in singles and 40 in doubles. He has been a regular at the US Open since 2014, reaching the quarterfinals in 2017 and the third round last year. Despite his past success in New York, he knew a win against Haase was not guaranteed.

“I knew already before the match that it is difficult when you play a guy you have never beat. So it was a little tough. Sometimes I was nervous. Sometimes I didn’t play my best. But I won in three sets so I am very happy.”

Schwartzman’s 2019 highlights include capturing his third ATP title in Los Cabos, reaching the finals in a tournament in Buenos Aires and beating Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals of the ATP Masters 1000 event in Rome, where he lost in three sets to No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.

“The most important tournament this year was Rome,” noted Schwartzman. “I was not playing my best tennis at that time. The clay season didn’t start in the best way and then in Rome I started playing really, really well again.”

Earlier in the year, he reached the third round at the Australian Open, while also making the French Open doubles semifinals with partner Guido Pella.

In June, he reached the quarterfinals in the London/Queen’s Club grass.  He lost in a tough five-setter in Wimbledon’s third round against Matteo Berrettini.

Schwartzman’s most impressive tournament of the year was last month in Los Cabos where he defeated Taylor Fritz in a two-set final.

Leading up to the US Open, Schwarzman spent August competing in the ATP Master’s 1000 in Canada, where he lost in the second round, and at the ATP Master’s 1000 in Cincinnati, where he lost to Richard Gasquet in the third round.

Schwartzman’s busy tournament schedule leaves little time for personal travel. He has spoken in the past of wanting to visit Israel. When asked in the press conference if he has visited Israel, he reports, “Not yet.”

Up next for Schwartzman in the second round is a match against Egor Gerasimov of Belarus.  He will play in the doubles draw with countryman Pella.

Other Jewish players in action on Tuesday included American Madison Brengle, who lost her first-round match 6-3, 6-3 to Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Jewish New Yorker aims to qualify for US Open, starts program to shine light on deep issues facing pro tennis players

Jewish tennis player Noah Rubin has been doing great things with rackets – on and off the court – since he was a little boy. The 23-year-old, 195th-ranked ATP professional from Long Island, New York, had a tennis-themed bar mitzvah, enjoyed a successful run as a junior, and has already had some memorable on-court moments since turning pro in 2015.

Rubin has beaten top tour players such as John Isner (2018 Citi Open in Washington DC), and he has given Roger Federer a run for his money, losing 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(3) in the second round of the 2017 Australian Open.  Rubin continues to hover around No. 200 in the rankings and travels the world participating in both the ATP Pro Tour and Challenger Tour events.

He is also active and vocal off the court, advocating for more equitable earnings for all tournament players, and helping humanize the sport through his “Behind The Racquet” project on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.  The initiative features many of the world’s best tennis players posing behind their rackets and telling personal stories of depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and more.

This week, Rubin is working to secure a spot in the main draw of the US Open in New York at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. He is no stranger to the Grand Slam event; Rubin has played in either the US Open Qualifying Tournament or the main draw every year since 2013.  To earn one of 16 coveted spots in this year’s main draw, he must first win two more matches in this week’s qualifiers.

A local favorite who was surrounded by family and friends during his first-round match, Rubin easily defeated Italian Gianluca Mager 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday to set up a second-round duel with 166th-ranked Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez late Thursday night.

Rubin comes from a tennis family.  According to his mother, Melanie, Noah began playing tennis while “still in diapers.” Melanie and her ex-husband, Eric, would get up at 5 a.m. and drive daughter Jessie and Noah to a 6-8 a.m. indoor tennis clinic on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Jessie Rubin McNally, who met her husband on a Birthright Israel trip, went on to play as the captain of the Binghamton (NY) University tennis team, but her younger brother took tennis to another level.

“Eric and I were a good team,” said Melanie. “He would feed Jessie and Noah balls, and I would pick up the balls and offer encouragement.”

As a young child, Rubin played tennis several days a week.  He played for the John McEnroe Tennis Academy and competed in tournaments, but also played on a soccer team and attend Hebrew school three days a week from second grade through the age of 13.

Rubin celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Merrick Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue on Long Island and organized a “mitzvah project” collecting used tennis rackets to donate to the Israel Tennis Centers (recently renamed the Israel Tennis and Education Centers).  As Rubin playfully noted, “I can recite my haftarah to this day!”

After his bar mitzvah, Rubin stopped attending Hebrew school and began to focus on tennis. He attended high school in Bellmore, Long Island, for one year before, as his training and tournament demands intensified, he switched to learning online.

As a junior player, Rubin reached No. 6 in the world in the International Tennis Federation.  In 2014, he was the No. 1 junior in the United States.  He reached the second round of the French Open juniors’ tournament in 2014 and soon after won the Wimbledon junior tournament.

One month later, Rubin won the 2014 US Tennis Association’s Boys 18s National Championships in both singles and doubles.  As a result of this victory, he received a wild card in to the main draw of the 2014 US Open. Since turning pro in 2015, Rubin has won four ATP Challenger titles and reached a high ranking of No. 131, in 2018.

The likable Rubin – who stands 5-feet-9-inches tall (1.75 meters) and weighs 155 pounds (70 kilos) – is articulate, earnest and very forthcoming to The Jerusalem Post this week in describing his first-round match, some personal struggles and the often challenging life of young professional tennis players.

“There is this anxiety which fills me at the US Open,” said Rubin. “As you can see, right behind me are my family and my friends – everybody who is close to me.  I love the support, but once I step on court it hits. There is a lot of pressure.  These are all the people who have worked so hard to get me to where I am.  I don’t want to let them down.”

Rubin said that he “loves to show off, not in front of people I know.”

Acknowledging that some of his best tournaments have been in Australia, Rubin offered: “That is because it is on the other side of the world.”

Rubin appeared to be healthy during his match against Mager.  When asked about his health in recent months, given a number of injuries in past years, he unexpectedly reported, “Another injury has stricken me and it is mental.  A lot of people don’t talk about that and that is what I am fixing.  It is a huge issue in tennis.  I have this ongoing quote that I say – tennis is not conducive to happiness.  That is a tough thing since tennis is the thing I love and I still love.  But the system of tennis doesn’t make it a viable choice to really smile each and every day.”  

Rubin tries hard to keep perspective.

“My new mentality these past five months, actually really the past two months, has been to try and just enjoy tennis, enjoy the atmosphere. People are here to support me.”

Rubin has worked hard to help fans understand the real life experience of professional tennis players and to offer insight in to how they are feeling.

“There are a lot of problems in this sport and it leads to depression, alcohol abuse, etc. I am desperately trying to get people to understand what is going on.   I want to help the world of tennis. I think nowadays people are starting to outwardly speak, but it will still take more effort.”

He is making progress through Behind the Racquet.

Rubin described the goals of the online series – to break the stigma of mental health, to allow players to share their stories and to let fans relate to players on a deeper basis.  Rubin hopes to “bring new excitement to tennis.”

Behind the Racquet currently has 13,600 followers on Instagram. Even tennis great Venus Williams has posted about it online.

Melanie proudly added that tennis legend Billy Jean King has also commented on Noah’s important contribution.  Melanie said that many players have reached out to Noah privately to “thank him from the bottom of their hearts” for what he is doing in capturing the often lonely, physically taxing life of an on-tour tennis player.

“He is really trying to do something good and help people. He has already made people’s lives better.”

His sister Jessie put Noah’s off-court work in a Jewish context.

“He is doing Tikkun Olam – he is trying to repair what needs to be repaired.”

Noah would appreciate her reference to the important Jewish concept of “healing the world.” Proud of his Judaism, Rubin plays around the world sporting a necklace he describes as “the hand of God with a chain in the middle,” which his father bought him as a 17th birthday present. He is pleased when fans engage him about being Jewish.  While he acknowledges that he represents America and New York wherever he goes, he adds, “I am a Jewish New Yorker and that means a lot to me.”

Rubin would very much like to visit Israel for the first time, but noted that his tournament schedule has made this difficult. He almost had the opportunity to play in the Jerusalem Challenger Tournament this year – “I tried to go but it was during the French Open Qualifying Tournament.”

“I will get to Israel,” asserted Rubin.  “It is not even a question. I will get there with my girlfriend or my family or by myself. I’ll run over there if I have to.”

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