Diego Schwartzman’s breakthrough season has seen him make the elite eight-man ATP Finals in London. But there was a time when ‘El Peque’ (shorty in Spanish) was selling bracelets during tennis tournaments to make ends meet.
The Argentine, who was named after Diego Maradona and played football as a youngster, had recalled his tough beginnings in tennis in a column for the ATP website earlier this year.
“My family lost everything. In the 1990s in Argentina, the government cut imports,” he wrote.
“Because we didn’t have a lot of money, it was really tough to start playing tennis or any sport for that matter. We really couldn’t afford it. But I played as much as I could.
“I started travelling to many tournaments with my mother. There was never a TV, and at almost every tournament we went to we had to share one bed. We stayed once at a hotel because a room cost only two pesos.
“It was the same thing over and over, but we had no choice. This is what we could afford.
“At one point, we were even selling rubber bracelets that were left over from the business my family had. We did anything we could do to get money to pay for trips to tournaments and the travel costs.
“Looking back, it was a tough situation. But at the time, it was funny. I helped my mom selling the bracelets, and so did some of the other players.
“Between matches we would all run around with a bag of bracelets to see who could sell the most, and my mom would give them 20 per cent of the money. It was like two competitions in one — tennis and selling bracelets!”
When he was 13, Schwartzman was told that he would not grow beyond 5 feet seven inches. But his family again rallied around him, inspiring him to push beyond that limitation.
“I was never a top junior — the only junior Grand Slam I played was the 2010 US Open qualifying, where I lost in the first round,” Schwartzman remembers.
“I messaged my family that day that I didn’t know what I was doing there. But I don’t think about all of those tough times much anymore. And once I became a professional, I never doubted myself, no matter the odds.”
In 2020, the 28-year-old has seen his hard work starting to pay off. Schwartzman reached his first major semi-final, as he reached the final four at the French Open, this season and broke into the top 10 in the ATP rankings.
On Tuesday, Schwartzman will make his debut in the season-ending ATP Finals, where only the top eight players of the season compete. The Argentine begins his campaign against Novak Djokovic.