Levine courts success

Jesse Levine hits to Bruno Agostinelli during their exhibition match at the Glen Cairn Tennis Club...

Jesse Levine hits to Bruno Agostinelli during their exhibition match at the Glen Cairn Tennis Club in Kanata last night. Levine, who had two wins vs. Top 50 players in three weeks, and Agostinelli are both competing in the Rogers Cup in Montreal. (Errol McGihon/Sun Media)

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

As one might expect, those in residence at the University of Florida were oblivious to the Stanley Cup final in the spring of 2007.

Until they were on Jesse Levine's floor, that is.

"That was the year the Sens went to the finals, and I'd be in my dorm room screaming," recalled Levine, a friend of Jason Spezza and the 122nd-ranked tennis player in the world.

"Everybody would come in and be like, 'what are you watching? You watch hockey?' I was like, yeah, I gotta root for my team. I was born there, I lived there for 13 years. I've got to support them, for sure."

Evident now is the support Levine has in Ottawa.

More than 500 folks were at the Glen Cairn Tennis Club in Kanata Thursday night to watch the 21-year-old play an exhibition against Canadian Davis Cup player Bruno Agostinelli before both head to Montreal and the Rogers Cup this morning.

A tune-up in the capital was a natural for Levine.

Born to Brenda and Nathan Levine at the Civic Hospital on Oct. 15, 1987, Jesse lived in Nepean and attended Hillel Academy on Broadview Ave. His dad, who played at Penn State, introduced him to tennis at an early age, and by the time Jesse was six, he was hitting balls on a regular basis at the Ottawa Athletic Club.>

There, he honed his game with the help of coach Nathan Gatt until the family moved to Boca Raton, Fla.

In promoting the 13th Kunstadt Open, as well as the opening of a store in the Glebe, Ron Kunstadt arranged the Levine-Agostinelli match.

"I played Jesse in 2001," remembered Ron. "I was 26 and he was 12. I had no chance."

If anything, Kunstadt is now in some good company.

Levine was 24-1 as a Gator in his freshman year, winning all but three of his matches in straight sets. His decision to turn pro in August 2007 proved to be a good one.

Rising to No. 94 in the world on Nov. 3, 2008, Levine's highlight was his upset of former world No. 1 Marat Safin of Russia in the first round of Wimbledon in June.

Levine beat Uruguay's top player, Pablo Cuevas, in the second round before losing to Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka.

"It was kind of a surreal experience for me," Levine said of his latest trip to Wimbledon. "I qualified there last year too and won a round, and this year qualified again and got through a couple more rounds.

"That whole tournament really got my confidence going. Really made me see where my level is at and made me believe I belong out there with the big boys"

With a spring in his step, Levine defeated No. 48-ranked Philipp Petzschner at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championship in Newport, R.I., before falling in the quarter-finals last month. The victory over the German was his second win over a Top 50 player in three weeks.

Levine, a lefty possessing quick feet, a strong forehand and great racket speed, refuses to predict how high in the rankings he could rise.

"You've got to take one step at a time," he said. "There's tournaments every week. You've just got to focus one match at a time, one day at a time, and work on different things and improving your game. It's easier said that done, but I feel like lately, I've been doing a good job at focusing on doing the right things and not getting caught up or sidetracked.

"Goals are kind of a private thing, but first goal is to get back inside the Top 100. I got in there and then had a bit of a shoulder injury. Once that got better, I'm starting to get it going again."

Levine says he's not recognized as a Canadian in the States.

"I'm American to them," he said. "Next to my name, there's that USA. No hard feelings, but growing up, Tennis Canada didn't really have my back or anything like that. Soon as I moved to Florida and started having a little bit of success, the USTA really took a liking to me and have been my support ever since. No hard feelings towards Tennis Canada or anything like that, but the USTA has been supporting me since I've been in the States and they've been unbelievable to me."

He does, however, enjoy getting back to Ottawa and visiting his friends, cousins and grandfather Maurice Kimmel, a fellow Senators booster.

"When he comes to Florida, we go to the Sens games when they play the Panthers," said Levine. "We're the only people in the crowd cheering for the Sens."


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