Sharon Fichman Returns

By Max Gao

Winter 2018/19

With a new mindset, Sharon Fichman sets her sights on new beginnings in return to competitive tennis. Did she ever really leave the game?

It was a cool Friday afternoon in the middle of last April when a long-lasting idea popped back into Sharon Fichman’s head. Working that weekend as a commentator for Sportsnet at the highly-anticipated Fed Cup World Group II tie between Canada and the Ukraine in Montréal, the 28-year-old says she was listening to the pre-weekend press conferences when a fire was lit from underneath her, prompting her to immediately reevaluate her competitive future.

Once one of Ontario’s most successful juniors, Fichman had stepped away from the professional tour for nearly two years due to a combination of persistent injuries, mental fatigue and a naturally understated desire to pursue other passions. In that time, she worked multiple assignments as a commentator for Sportsnet and became a Tennis Canada certified coach, working with some of the nation’s most promising juniors.

In many ways, one could say that the Israeli-Canadian was never really away from the game, but the former World No. 48 in doubles admits it was the latter that made her fall in love with tennis all over again—only this time with a greater sense of purpose and overall enjoyment than when she first started some 24 years ago.

Sharon, 4 years old, at Viewmount Park Tennis Club

Born in Toronto, Fichman vividly recalls the day she hit her first tennis ball at the age of four against a wall at the Viewmount Park Tennis Club, not too far from the apartment where she grew up. “I believe my first racquet was not actually a tennis racquet; I think I found a racquetball racquet in the play room of our apartment,” she recalled in a sit-down interview last fall. “I began hitting against the wall at the local tennis club while my parents and brother were on the tennis court. After about 30 minutes, I figured out how to maintain a rally against the wall and the rest is history…”

It’s a long history that began with her father, Bobby, who quickly took notice of his daughter’s natural talent and became her first coach, serving as a constant source of inspiration in her development from an early age. “I had other coaches play a huge part in my development (Peter Cameron, Simon Bartram, Benjamin Armstrong) as a young player but my father was the most integral part of my tennis from day 1,” remarked Fichman.

“He always made time to take my brother and I out to play tennis while somehow balancing the demands of a full-time job,” she noted. “My dad recognized that I was most focused when he was able to turn a development skill or drill into a competitive game and that was what got me hooked on the sport.

“He was patient and encouraging but what was most important was that as I developed, he set the standard of never expecting more than what I was capable of but never accepting less.”

From there, Fichman quickly began to climb the junior tennis ladder, winning provincial, national and international-level events in her early teens to set a precedent that had rarely been seen in Canadian women’s tennis. While she says some of her fondest memories of that time were the hours she would spend competing with her father and brother for the most tennis trophies in their family, Fichman ascertained that nothing made her prouder than being able to represent Canada on the world stage, culminating in her first Fed Cup appearance at just 14 years of age. In many ways, it was a nomination that seemed to be a long time coming for a talented teenager who, just two years earlier, had taken Tennis Canada by surprise by winning the U18 Provincial title.

“To be honest, it was such a long time ago that I am struggling to remember!” she said, laughing, trying to recall that unexpected title run. “I was very proud of myself, especially because there was such depth in the competitive field at that time but I distinctly remember my ear-to-ear grin coming primarily from looking over and seeing the pride on my father’s face as I walked to the net to shake hands with my opponent in the finals.”

Fichman won the ITF doubles at the 2018 Tevlin Challenger in Toronto with Maria Sanchez. It was her first title back.

“My father was my teammate. He spent the most time with me at tournaments as a junior, so it was always special to share successful moments together.”

Once she was able to make that monumental breakthrough, Fichman naturally decided to make the transition to the national level, where she was met with an abundance of support from Tennis Canada and a sudden but important change in mentality that would stick with her for her entire career.

“I also partook in Province vs. Province events so I was exposed to other players around Canada prior to competing nationally in individual events.”

Sharon was passionate about representing Canada.

“The biggest difference I noticed was the mentality—I respected everyone I played against but feared no one and this helped me to remain successful during my transition. I have to attribute a lot of this to my older brother. He would willingly practice with me and because he was much better and stronger than I was, I was forced to level up and improve quickly in order to keep up. He also always shared a lot of his own wisdom and experience with me and that helped me avoid some mistakes that I may have otherwise made.”

Once she was a successful national-level player, Fichman says she would often get invited to regroupings by Tennis Canada, as well as many international events where they would subsidize costs wherever possible. “This allowed me the opportunity to gain the experience and wisdom from other coaches as well as the experience of travelling and competing against the best players in the world that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have,” she concluded.

It was this kind of support that would stick with Fichman for most of her junior career, as she quickly began to break through internationally. In 2002, the Canadian was able to win the 12-and-under Orange Bowl title, joining the likes of Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles who had all won that title some 20 years earlier. Besides the obvious feeling of pride that came with winning one of the most prestigious events on the junior calendar, Fichman says she has incredibly fond memories of the support she received that week, to which she credits part of her success. “It was so exciting and inspiring to see coaches that I knew and even as far as Tennis Canada volunteers coming to watch and cheer for me throughout the week,” she said.

However, the former junior World No. 5 wouldn’t stop there. Shortly after having her first taste of international success, Fichman had an outstanding next couple of years, winning the U18 National title at the age of 13 and two Junior Grand Slam doubles titles with Russian standout Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

U12 Orange Bowl Champion.

Reflecting on that time, the 27-year-old simply said, “I remember having an absolute blast! It was so fun to be at the tournaments that I grew up watching on TV and playing on stages that I thought I’d only ever dream of playing on.”

“Anastasia was one of my best friends on the junior circuit and I am very grateful that I was able to share fantastic memories with such a wonderful person. Our game styles complemented each other well and our faces usually hurt after matches from laughing so much.”

After all of her success at the junior level, Fichman was suddenly tasked to make a decision that would shape the better part of her early adult life: to turn pro or to pursue a post-secondary education, which were both equally important to both her and her family. “Ultimately, I decided to turn pro after winning my second Challenger title in Osprey, Florida,” she recalled. “Due to my quick rise as a teenager on the WTA tour, my parents and I finally agreed that I would be happiest pursing tennis for the foreseeable future and leaving the option for pursuing academia open for the future.”

During the 2013 Rogers Cup, Sharon and Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski knocked out the reigning World No. 1 team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci in a three-set thriller on the Grandstand court.

After a difficult few years on the ITF Pro Circuit, where she inevitably found herself having to rebuild her confidence after intermittent injuries inevitably threatened to hinder her progress, Fichman would continue her success on the doubles court while working tirelessly to improve her singles game. Between 2005 and 2012, the Torontonian won a total of 20 ITF titles (7 in singles, 13 in doubles), but her real breakthrough would come in the summer of 2013, when she qualified for her first Grand Slam main draw at the U.S. Open.

After an impressive first half of the season, the Canadian would go on a tear on home soil. At the $100k event in Vancouver, Fichman would reach both the singles and doubles finals, winning the latter with Maryna Zanevska before losing the former to a red-hot Johanna Konta. The following week, she would carry this confidence straight to the Rogers Cup in Toronto. In front of her home crowd, she was not only able to push former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the singles, but was also able to pull off a massive upset with Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski, knocking out the reigning World No. 1 team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci in a three-set thriller on the Grandstand.

“The 2013 Rogers Cup is absolutely my favourite year to look back on to date,” she said. “I will always cherish the moments where I have been fortunate enough to play in front of my family and friends but that year at the Rogers Cup was especially special.”

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sharon were a successful doubles team.

After another strong couple of years, which saw her win the biggest title of her career at a $100k event in Cagnes-sur-Mer, Fichman seemingly abruptly disappeared from the tennis world after a straight-sets loss in qualifying at an ITF event in Trnava, Slovakia. However, as the 28-year-old later explained, this was a move she had been contemplating for quite some time as a growing desire to pursue other projects began to eclipse her playing career.

“I pursued my passion for media and my gift of gab to be a tennis analyst for Sportsnet. I got my Coach 3 Certificate from Tennis Canada and began coaching for the Canadian Tennis Federation on contract, travelling with and aiding in the development of some of our top Canadian junior players. As well, I aided in the high-performance development at the Granite Club in Toronto for the past year.”

It was through coaching that Fichman seemingly rediscovered her love for the sport and with it came a burning desire to return to competition, fuelled in no small part by the support of her agent Marla Ono and her fiancé Dylan Moscovitch, a recently retired pairs figure skater who won a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Having a significant other that has travelled a similar path brought me a lot of knowledge, wisdom and perspective that I did not have prior to my decision to step away from tennis indefinitely,” she explained. “I’m now returning to the sport with a different perspective and nothing but pure love for the game and the love of representing my country.”

With this new change in perspective, Fichman began her preparations for a comeback in the late spring, training with national coach Simon Bartram at the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club and working with strength and conditioning coach Clément Golliet. It’s a grind that Fichman has learned to embrace, thanks in large part to her renewed mindset.

Sharon and her fiancé Dylan Moscovitch.

“The biggest difference from the past is my mentality when I am training—I am a lot more at mindful now compared to the past,” noted the former World No. 48 in doubles. “As well, my experience as a coach has played a big part in my ability to be more objective, rational and eager to problem solve rather than react emotionally to a problem. There is also a new element and dynamic now when I am working with my coach because I have been fortunate enough to have Simon be involved in my development as both a player since the age of nine and throughout my coach education process with Tennis Canada. It’s extremely unique and invaluable to my learning curve at this stage in my career and it really ups the level of enjoyment on court for everyone.”

In her return to competition, Fichman has looked particularly impressive, reaching three ITF doubles finals, winning one at the Tevlin Challenger in Toronto with good friend Maria Sanchez—whom she partnered to win her lone WTA doubles title in Auckland just over five years ago.

As she prepares to start her 2019 season with a series of Challengers starting in late January, the 28-year-old has her sights set on just working as hard as she can and enjoying the journey that lies ahead, while leaving the inevitable performance and ranking goals to linger in the back of her mind.

Regardless of what happens in the next chapter of her already very impressive playing career, one thing is for certain: Fichman will be back to doing what she loves most in the New Year, just like the little girl who picked up an oversized racquetball racquet and began hitting against an old wall with nothing but a big dream.