Biofile: The Jesse Levine Interview
By Scoop Malinowski
Friday, July 10, 2009
Jesse Levine, Justin Gimelstob, David Martin and Taylor Dent (left to right)
Jesse Levine has made his mark practicing with Roger Federer in the oppressive heat of Dubai, reaching his first career ATP quarterfinal in New Haven last August and upsetting Marat Safin at Wimbledon last month, but one of his most memorable tennis moments came on the day Andy Roddick left his mark on Levine.
"At Davis Cup in Vienna, Austria, I was playing a baseline game with Roddick and I lost. And he got to smack a couple balls from behind the baseline," Levine remembers. "And he got me right in the hamstring and I had a black and blue mark the next day. Everybody was making fun of it, but you know what, I had the guts to stand there against it. So I was pretty happy about that. But not happy about the result [laughs]."
The incident illustrates the qualities that have carried Levine to his current rank of No. 129. Though he's hardly a heavyweight by today's tennis standards — he stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 150 pounds — Levine carries a toughness on the court that comes from his early years of playing hockey while growing up in Ottawa, the fearlessness of facing the fire from some of tennis' toughest hitters and has a sense of humor that makes him a popular presence among Americans.
Last summer, Levine traveled to Dubai at the invitation of Federer where he calls practicing in conditions so hot the sweat from his sneakers seeped out through his soles leaving footprints on the court. Those practice sessions paid off for both men: Federer captured his fifth US Open championship last September and Levine returned to the States, qualified for the Pilot Pen in New Haven and reached his career ATP quarterfinal.
As a freshman at the University at Florida, Levine went 24-1 (with his only loss coming to John Isner in the NCAA quarterfinals) and turned pro after the 2007 season. He has trained at the IMG Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in recent years and Bollettieri cites the left-hander's quickness, tenacity, court sense and crowd-pleasing effort level as key qualities to his game.
"Jesse grew up at the Academy and you will not find a harder worker than him," Bollettieri says. "He is quick around the court and his lefty game is unpredictable at times. He's a clever player who knows his way around the court. The crowd really takes to him because he competes so hard."
Former World No. 1 Safin learned just how competitive Levine is when the 21-year-old Boca Raton resident played through qualifying before stunning the 14th-seeded Safin, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 at Wimbledon last month.
"I mean, it was just, to me, one of the best matches I've played in my career so far," Levine says. "And definitely (I) had that feeling of, (I) could do no wrong. (When did you first sense it was gonna be a special day for you?) In the first set, just swinging away. Obviously, I was real nervous, but I really had no pressure on me. I just let my game go."
Scoop Malinowski, who has reached a career-high rank of No. 4 in the USTA Eastern 35s and is known for losing his grip on the racquet, caught up with Levine in Newport where he is playing this week's Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, for this Biofile interview.
"Obviously, right now, to get back into the top 100. I'm kinda taking one step at a time. Obviously, the big goal is to be top 20. For right now my long term goal is top 20."
"I really enjoy playing every other sport, you name it. I'm big into hockey, I'm a huge hockey fan, I like going to play some pick-up games. And playing soccer. I have a couple of friends I went to high school with, I went to high school with Josey Altidore who is doing really well playing for the U.S. national team. I follow him. I follow Jason Spezza, he's a friend who plays for the Ottawa Senators."
"I have a couple...J-Money, from college. Jaybow, because Tim Tebow, they called me Jaybow in college, because I also went to University of Florida. And the last one is — the Hebrew Hammer [laughs]."
Last Book Read
: "James Blake's Book (Breaking Back)."
"Rudy, Rocky and Wedding Crashers."
Favorite TV Show:
: "A little bit of everything, a little country, I like Keith Urban. Hip-hop — Acon. Dave Matthews Band. John Mayer."
: "Pasta, pizza, Italian."
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor
: "Mint chocolate chip."
"Not yet. This is my second year our there. So I gotta get the feel a little more before I say a favorite tournament."
"I drive a Mazda 3 hatchback (silver). But that's gonna chance soon [laughs]."
: "Definitely think about my strategy and about focusing on the things that I can control. And try to get in that zone before I get on the court."
Greatest Sports Moment
: "I would say beating Marat Safin at Wimbledon."
Most Painful Moment
: "I would say losing 10-8 in the third at the French Open in qualifying ('08). (To who?) From Argentina...can't think of his name now."
Which Match(es) Did You Feel At Your Best:
"For sure Wimbledon this year, first round against Safin. I mean, it was just, to me, one of the best matches I've played in my career so far. And definitely (I) had that feeling of, (I) could do no wrong. (When did you first sense it was gonna be a special day for you?) In the first set, just swinging away. Obviously, I was real nervous, but I really had no pressure on me. I just let my game go."
Closest ATP Friends:
"I would say Justin Gimelstob, Ryan Sweeting, Brendan Evans, Michael Shabazz and John Isner."
Funniest Players Encountered
: "Sam Querrey is a funny guy. He's one of my good friends too. I think he has kind of that California goofyness. He's a great guy, but once he gets on the court, he gets into an intense mode. Then once he's off, he's like this laid-back dude that you wouldn't think is, he's an unbelievable player."
Toughest Competitors Encountered
: "Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal."
Who Was The First Famous Player You Met:
"Andy Roddick, because I went to high school with him. He was just starting to play professionally when I was a freshman. Met him at a basketball game for his charity event, at my high school. I played on the same team as him. And I threw him an alley-oop and he jammed it home. He came up and gave me a high-five. That's my first memory [smiles]."
Favorite Players To Watch:
"I like watching Roddick, Federer, I just enjoy tennis period. Nadal. They're all good to watch."
"Back to Ottawa, Canada for a week."
Funny Tennis Memory:
"At Davis Cup in Vienna, Austria, I was playing a baseline game with Roddick and I lost. And he got to smack a couple balls from behind the baseline. And he got me right in the hamstring and I had a black and blue mark the next day. Everybody was making fun of it, but you know what, I had the guts to stand there against it. So I was pretty happy about that. But not happy about the result [laughs]."
Your Newport Experience:
"I think it's an amazing place. Such a prestigious place to play a tournament, a really pretty place to be. This is my fourth time here, I qualified twice as a junior player. Last year I came for the first time as a professional and won my first match against Isner, so I've had some success here. I had a good win in my first round against Guccione (76 76). Hopefully I can keep it going."
Embarrassing Tennis Memory:
"Maybe in junior doubles, I got hit with an overhead in the head. That was embarrassing. But I ended up bouncing back. I won the match. Right, smack in the head. I remember clearly hearing people laughing. (Who hit it?) My soon-to-be doubles partner Michael Shabazz. Yeah, and he always gives me a hard time. Remember when I hit you in the head [smiles]?"
People Qualities Most Admired
: "Definitely loyalty and trustworthy."
First Tennis Memory:
"I would say playing mini tennis in my driveway with my mom and my dad. I clearly remember taking a huge swing at just connecting and getting my dad right in the stomach with the tennis ball. It's a clear memory (age 4 or 5)."