Jewish tennis player draws attention at the US Open
With a cadre of middle-aged Jewish male fans, feisty Sharon Fichman is hopeful for her upcoming women’s doubles match
FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York — On the court at the US Open in Flushing Meadows, 22-year-old Canadian Sharon Fichman is a hard-hitting, feisty, grunting right-handed baseliner who packs a lot of punch into her 5 foot, 4 inch (1.63 meters) frame. Her fighting spirit and determination helped the number two seed as she battled through three matches in the US Open qualifying tournament last week.
There, Fichman earned one of the 128 coveted spots in the US Open 2013 Women’s draw, unlike Israeli star Shahar Peer, the number one seed in the “qualies,” who lost her first round match in straight sets to Russian Ksenia Pervak 6-4, 7-6 and did not make the main draw for singles. Peer will play doubles with Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain.
At a career-high rank of 95 in the world, and despite being relatively unknown outside of her native Canada, Fichman attracts a small group of loyal followers. These mostly middle-aged Jewish men from New York city chant courtside, “Go, Sharon!” throughout her matches and appear to know a great deal about the Jewish players and coaches represented at the US Open.
One Fichman fan sees my Times of Israel media credentials, grabs the daily schedule of matches from my hands, and points out all players with a Jewish connection: “Julia Cohen is half Jewish; Camille Giorgi is Jewish; Youzny is maybe a quarter Jewish but his Russian coach is a proud Jew…” Nachas.
Fichman’s own parents are not in the crowd; she matter-of-factly reports in a post-match interview that her nuclear engineer father, Bobby, and computer engineer mother, Julia, have already used up their vacation time.
Fichman was born in Toronto in 1990, where she was also raised, but is currently training in Vancouver with coach Larry Jurovich. Her Romanian-born parents moved to Israel in 1982, then to Canada in 1989. Fichman began playing tennis at age 6.
“I come from a tennis family — my dad played in the nationals in Romania, my mother loved playing tennis recreationally and my older brother, Thomas, plays tennis. We had a club near our house and I was good at tennis right away.”
In 2004, when she was 13, Fichman won the prestigious Orange Bowl juniors title and was the world’s number two player in her age group. The same year she was Canada’s under-18 Indoor and Outdoor National girls champion. By 14 she had won the gold medal for tennis singles at the 17th Maccabiah Games, where she also won a silver in mixed doubles and a bronze in women’s doubles.
“I got really sick when the week of the Maccabiah Games started,” she vividly recalls.
Fichman has been to Israel many times. “I really love Israel — it is an amazing place. I have dual citizenship, and I have lots of family — aunts, uncles, cousins and nephews in Israel.”
She had a very successful 2006 with doubles victories in both the junior Australian and French opens; she reached the quarter finals in singles and the finals in doubles at the junior US Open later that year. In October of 2006, Fichman began beating some of the world’s top ranked players including Hana Sromova (114).
Fichman turned pro in 2007 and managed to defeat the world’s #90, Stephanie Cohen-Aloro. Later, in 2012, Fichman’s competed in Challenger tournaments and her rankings began to climb — from 239 in July to 153 in December.
Most recently, Fichman has achieved some success in her native Canada
Most recently, She has achieved some success in her native Canada. At the Rogers Cup in Toronto earlier this month, Fichman, then ranked 104, reached the second round in singles and made it to the semifinals for doubles.
With a career win/lost record of 234 and 148, she has earned $85,383 so far this year, with a career net of $338,643.
Following Fichman’s three wins in the US Open qualifiers, she faced Romanian Sorana Cirstea, ranked 22 in the world and the tournament’s 19th seed.
Asked in a post-match interview about facing another player of Romanian descent in the first round, she playfully said, “I’ve known Sorana since we were 11 years old. We’ve played so many times. We met at age 13 or 14 in the finals at the Orange Bowl — it’s not weird at all. We grew up together and we’re friends.”
Cirstea defeated Fichman 7-5, 5-7, 6-1.
“I had a lot of opportunities but I didn’t connect on the break points. I felt I played pretty well for the most part.”
Fichman is intensely focused on her tennis career, which often requires 35 to 40 weeks of travel per year.
“It’s hard to find another passion when I am in one,” she said, but speaks of her love for cooking and baking, the outdoors (walks, hiking and fishing) and of possible future professional interests including business, finance, real estate, and interior design.
But for now, it’s back to tennis. Despite her loss in the singles, Fichman and fellow Canadian Aleksandra Wosniack are in the main draw for the US Open women’s doubles, where Fichman is currently ranked 89 in the world. (Fichman and Wosniack were scheduled to face wildcards Allie Kiick and Sachia Vickery, both of the United States, on Wednesday, but the match was postponed due to rain.)
Fichman is optimistic. “This is the best I’ve done as a pro — the best is yet to come!”