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

NEW YORK – Jewish Argentine Diego Schwartzman battled and dominated No. 6 Alexander Zverev of Germany in their fourth-round match at the US Open late Monday night. The hard-hitting Schwartzman won 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 to advance to his third quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament, where he will face No. 2 Rafael Nadal.

Schwartzman, 27, who holds a 5-22 record versus top 10 players, was 1-1 against the hard-serving Zverev prior to Monday’s match. Zverev looked unstoppable as he started the match with two aces. He hit 11 aces overall, however his 17 double faults – many at key moments in the match – proved costly.

Schwartzman, known to be an excellent serve returner, had no aces and only one double fault. Zverev committed 65 unforced errors to Schwartzman’s 43.

“I have a lot of confidence in my return,” said Schwartzman. “I was trying to study where my opponents are going to serve in important moments. I saw many videos of Alex serving. I know it’s a weapon in my game. I need to use it.”

Schwartzman adds that his endurance is another strength of his and that he “has the confidence to beat many guys when the match goes on for many hours.”

Zverev noted in his post-match press conference that the court was “playing very low and slow,” and added, “credit to [Schwartzman]. He played a great match. I thought he was playing very aggressive. You know, he’s playing well.”

Prior to Monday, only Schwartzman, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal had not lost a set in this year’s US Open. Schwartzman had lost a total of 23 games, Djokovic 29 and Nadal, who won on a walkover in the second round (with Thanasi Kokkinakis bowing out due to injury), had lost just 16 games. No. Djokovic had to retire from his match against Stan Wawrinka due to a shoulder injury, while Nadal dropped a set, but claimed a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 over 2014 champion Marin Cilic.

After losing the first two points in the first game of the first set, Schwartzman jumpedto an early 2-0 lead before losing the next five games and falling 6-3.

The first two games of the second set followed a similar script with Schwartzman going up 2-0. At 2-2, Schwartzman served what would be the longest game of the day. After six deuces, Schwartzman hit a passing shot and forced Zverev to hit long to go up 3-2. Schwartzman didn’t lose another game that set.

“I think the momentum changed in the second set, where I had four or five breakpoints in one game, and I didn’t take them,” said Zverev.

Schwartzman agreed that this fifth game was an important turning point in the match.

“I had great save at two-all in the second set,” he said. “It was very important to me. Also, against [Zverev], he’s a big guy when he’s up in the score, so it was important to win the game. After that, I think I started to change my game a little and thought ‘OK this is how I need to play.’ Then, in the third and in the fourth, I tried to do the same – trying to be aggressive, and do good defenses. It was a great match after that first set.”

Schwartzman was looking forward to what will definitely be a tough quarterfinal duel.

“If I play Rafa, I need to be focused. I need to study my games against him. I have many good games, very good matches against him. I had my chances against him in many matches, but I haven’t been able to win against him. You never know when you are going to come the next opportunities.”

Nadal, meanwhile, faced his stiffest challenge yet, but raised his game to beat Cilic and continue his quest for a fourth Flushing Meadows title.

The second-seeded Spaniard was in cruise control as he took the first set behind some superb serving and stout defense, but the big-hitting Croatian battled back to snatch the second.

That was as good as it would get for Cilic, however, the momentum shifting decisively in Nadal’s favor when he jumped in the air to hit a spectacular overhead smash that electrified the crowd.

Cilic would double fault later in the game to give Nadal a 3-1 lead and he would never threaten again on a hot and humid night in New York, with Tiger Woods among the star-studded crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium cheering on the Spaniard.

Nadal fired a forehand winner on match point to seal the victory and make his 40th quarterfinal at a Grand Slam.

The 33-year-old 18-time Grand Slam champion has had a relatively stress-free time at the tournament so far, dropping just one set and getting a walkover in the second round.

Schwartzman has faced Nadal seven times and lost every meeting, but has proven a difficult test in the slams, forcing the Spaniard to go four tough sets at the 2018 Australian and French Opens.

“He is one of the most talented players on our tour,” said Nadal, who sometimes trains with Schwartzman. “He has everything, amazing control, amazing speed. He is one of my best friends. He is a real challenge”.

“He has the ability to read very well your shots and to understand very well the game. It is not a surprise he is there.
“I need to play my best in the next round to have the chance to be in the semifinals.”

Nadal is on a collision course with third seed Roger Federer and could meet his old rival in Sunday’s final if both players advance. Federer faced Grigor Dimitrov in the quarters late Tuesday night in match that finished after press time.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

“I am from an Arab family. It’s a privilege for me to interact with my Jewish friends and build new friendships through the years,” Haifa native Rand Najjar, 15, said.

NEW YORK – Monday’s crowd of 68,059 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, was the largest to attend an opening day in US Open history. But those in attendance did not see any Israelis in action. For the first time in many years, there were no Israelis in the men’s, women’s or juniors draws for singles or doubles at the US Open.

That may change in the future if recent efforts of the newly renamed Israel Tennis & Education Centers (ITEC) are successful. But even if the ITEC never produces world class tennis players, they are already producing thousands of tolerant, inclusive citizens who will serve as important ambassadors in of Israel and around the world.

Four promising young Israel tennis players – from diverse backgrounds, home towns and tennis centers across Israel – attended the US Open opening matches to see their heroes in action and to celebrate the conclusion of participating in five tennis exhibitions in eight days in New York, Boston and Cleveland.

Haifa native Rand Najjar, 15, takes part in the High Performance Coexistence Program in Haifa which serves Jewish, Muslim and Christian players. Najjar, who has been playing tennis for 10 years and is considered one of the top players in her age group in Israel, spoke with The Jerusalem Post this week about her experience.

“I am from an Arab family. It’s a privilege for me to interact with my Jewish friends and build new friendships through the years,” she said. “We don’t feel that there are any differences between us. We are all equal. And we feel that the tennis center is such a peaceful place.”

Eden Eneli, also from Haifa and currently a student at Tel Aviv University, coaches in the High Performance program and works with Israel’s national tennis team. While he is pleased to coach players with diverse backgrounds in the city where he grew up, he stressed the much larger role of the Israel Tennis & Education Centers in the lives of the participants.

“My first goal is to educate the next generation. My second goal is to be their tennis coach.”

Nir Skolotsky, 15, who lives in Beersheba and participates in the High Performance program, has played in international tournaments.  He dreams of receiving a full scholarship to study and play tennis n a Division 1 university in the United States.

Tel Avivian Noa Hamenoo, 11, dreams of becoming a professional tennis player and competing in Wimbledon like her idol, Serena Williams.

“I love Serena,” gushed Hamenoo.

Noa Hamenoo – from Tel Aviv – dreams of becoming the next Serena Williams (Credit: Howard Blas)

“[Noa] calls herself the Serena of Israel,” quipped Jacqueline Glodstein, the ITEC Executive Vice President for Global Development.

Hamenoo has not had an easy life and appreciates the opportunities tennis offers.

“I live in an underprivileged neighborhood in South Tel Aviv,” she said. “My parents came to Israel from Ghana, West Africa. I have two sisters and one of them was born prematurely resulting in her having cerebral palsy; she is my inspiration.”

Hamenoo feels the tennis centers are “a safe place where I can come and be with my many friends.”

The youngest, and perhaps liveliest, member of the group was Ariel Kolandarov. The 10-year-old from Tel Aviv, and the top-ranked player in his age group, confidently proclaimed that “I want to be No. 1, like [Novak] Djokovic!” as he playfully signed an autograph.

According to Yoni Yair, ITEC’s Vice President of Development, Kolandarov’s aspirations may not be too far off.

“Ariel is one of the most talented we have ever brought for an exhibition. He has great promise for Israel tennis,” said Yair.

Kolandarov lives with his parents – immigrants in 2002 from Uzbekistan – and his tennis playing sister, Sabrina.

“My parents were both orphans, from the same orphanage in Tashkent, where they met and fell in love. After they married, they made the very difficult move to Israel and settled in Tel Aviv, where we now live. It’s a very poor area, but it’s home. My mom works as a cleaning lady and my dad is a driver. My sister and I receive full scholarships which allows us to benefit from the social services and English language tutoring at the ITEC.”

Over the last 43 years the Israel Tennis & Education Centers has grown and evolved into a social service organization that teaches tennis, offers academic enrichment and mentoring and in the process and empowers thousands of vulnerable children from diverse backgrounds. The foundation started with one center in 1976 and now features 14 centers throughout Israel.

Glodstein noted that people continue to respond positively to the name change—from Israel Tennis Centers to Israel Tennis & Education Centers.

“It is an affirmation of what we do,” she said. “Tennis is just one part of our mission, teaching values and life skills is even more important.”

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