Schwartzman's Latest Achievement: Becoming Top Argentine In ATP Rankings
Diego Schwartzman walks calmly and somewhat inconspicuously through the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center after having reached the third round of the US Open for the third time in his career and as the only South American player left in the draw.
The 27-year-old, who faces American Tennys Sandgren for a place in the fourth round, will accomplish another career milestone on 9 September when the new ATP Rankings are released. For the first time, “El Peque” (Shorty) will be Argentina's highest-ranked player, leapfrogging both Guido Pella and Juan Martin del Potro for the country's top spot.
Ownership of that position has alternated between a number of players during the past several years. From late 2014 until early 2016, Leonardo Mayer held the top spot before Pella wrestled that title away for a short period.
By mid-2016, Federico Delbonis had established himself as the nation's best, only to be usurped by a resurgent Del Potro, who reclaimed his place as Argentina's No. 1 late in the season. He has held that position since, but a knee injury and subsequent surgery have sidelined Del Potro since June and forced last year's US Open finalist to withdraw from this year's tournament, leaving him unable to defend the 1,200 points he gained from making the final.
That string of events, combined with Schwartzman's consistent form, means a changing of the guard once the updated rankings are announced.
Despite the honour, Schwartzman, who reached a career-high No. 11 in June 2018 and is currently No. 21, remains grounded and prefers to praise his countrymen rather than bask in any glory.
“[Being Argentina's top-ranked player] is a bit relative... if you look past the actual ranking, Del Potro is still Argentina's No. 1 in terms of name recognition and level of play. We [Argentines] all feel the same way, even if Pella or I hold that top spot. The one who carries our country's flag is still Juan Martin,” Schwartzman said. “While he was injured, it became our responsibility to take charge. I don't pay much attention to who is at the top. I'd rather think of us all on level terms, even if I'm performing better for a stretch.”
Could he have imagined, nearly two years since cracking the Top 30, that he would maintain his form and not dip below that spot for this long?
“I've felt comfortable with where I'm at and competing in the big tournaments for some time now,” Schwartzman said. “It's not easy maintaining your health for extended periods, so in that sense I'm happy to be competing without injuries and performing at nearly 100 per cent week after week.”
“I don't go into the season thinking when or how I'm going to earn 1,600, 1,800 [ATP Ranking] points ... but suddenly I'm achieving that. The points are adding up and I'm in the mix of things with possibilities of gaining more at the big tournaments.”
While it isn't necessarily a goal, Schwartzman does see the possibility of returning to or even surpassing his career-high ranking of No. 11 as motivation and fuel for future success.
“I feel I'm playing well enough at this current time to win many of my matches,” Schwartzman said. “I've got a strong shot of reaching the second week here and boosting my chances of breaking back into the Top 15. The ranking helps, but you obviously must continue winning matches. I've done a good job of doing that over the past few years, winning when I have to win.”
Not only is the player from Buenos Aires finding his groove in Flushing Meadows, he’s also becoming more adept at competing on faster surfaces. “People didn't believe me when I told them I prefer playing on hard courts over other surfaces, but now the results speak for themselves,” Schwartzman said proudly. “That gives me a positive outlook.”
How does settling into a comfort zone impact his game and overall success on the faster surfaces?
“The slicker courts mean you have to think faster and come up with solutions on the fly,” Schwartzman explained. “I can be more aggressive from the start with my serve. Hitting a flatter, harder ball means there's less time for opponents to react. Sure, my opponents are hitting harder, but my shots do damage as well, and that allows for more opportunities to take bigger risks.”