Jesse Levine is now officially playing tennis under the Canadian flag – but the paperwork switching his allegiance from the United States wasn't ready in time to make him eligible for next month's Davis Cup tie versus Spain.
No matter, Levine says, he'll be there in Vancouver anyway, supporting and practising with his new Canadian teammates.
The 25-year-old was born in Ottawa and his family moved to Florida when he was 13. He had represented the U.S. from then on, but kept in touch with Tennis Canada. He turned down offers to compete for his birth country, but felt some day, he would play for Canada.
At the end of his 2012 season on the ATP World Tour, and looking at the promising crop of young Canadians (such as current world No. 15 Milos Raonic), he felt it was time.
"I'm really excited to get the opportunity to play under my roots, my home country," Levine said on a conference call Wednesday, adding he has always considered himself Canadian at heart. "It was a big opportunity for me. I really wanted to play Davis Cup and maybe even the Olympics, and I really felt I had the opportunity to do it for Canada."
Levine is currently ranked 104th, Canada's second-highest ranking male singles player behind Raonic. Vasek Pospisil is next, at No. 128.
In his first tournament representing Canada, Levine has reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Open, an ATP World Tour 250 event in Auckland, New Zealand. He has played and won five times in five days (including three qualifying rounds), and toppled American Brian Baker 7-5, 6-4 on Wednesday.
Levine next meets another U.S. player, Sam Querrey, on Thursday.
The left-hander had a career-high ranking of No. 69 in 2012. During that year, he made it to the quarter-finals of two ATP tournaments and had second-round showings at both the French Open and Wimbledon. He has spent time as a training partner of Swiss star Roger Federer.
Levine, who says he is still a die-hard Ottawa Senators fan, took up tennis at the Ottawa Athletic Club as a boy. His family went to live in Florida because his youngest brother had ulcerative colitis and the year-round warm weather was better for his health.
As a junior player, Levine got to know Raonic – he joked Wednesday he knew the 6-foot-5 Canadian star when he was smaller than Levine (who today stands 5 foot 9) – and Pospisil, too.
Levine was disappointed to learn he wouldn't be eligible to join them when Canada plays host to Spain, but said he made the decision to don the Maple Leaf for the long run and will be available for all future ties.
The International Tennis Federation rules dictate a 90-day waiting period from the time a player applies to change nationalities before they can represent his new country in international competition. The filing wasn't done in enough advance of the February event.
"All the guys playing are really up-and-coming guys. Obviously, Milos has done extremely well and has exploded, and I believe he can be top five if not top three. And when you have someone like him on the team, it really pushes everyone else," said Levine, adding he saw Raonic in Australia recently and Raonic was eager to know when he would be suiting up for Canada.
"Then, there's Filip Peliwo, who was the No. 1 junior in the world, so, obviously, Tennis Canada is doing something right. I'm excited to be part of it."