Learn more about the 18-year-old's journey

Remember the name Joel Schwaerzler. At age 18, the Austrian has already entered the record books.

Schwaerzler, ninth in the PIF ATP Live Race To Jeddah, was crowned champion at last week’s ATP Challenger Tour event in Skopje, Macedonia, where he became just the fourth player to win a title at that level while holding the junior No. 1 ranking. Nick Kyrgios, Taylor Fritz and Wu Yibing also accomplished the feat.

Among those who congratulated Schwaerzler on his milestone moment include 2020 US Open champion Dominic Thiem, who is retiring later this year. Could this be a passing of the torch in Austrian tennis?

“Dominic congratulated me, which is very nice. [He said that] he’s happy for me and that I’m on a good path,” Schwaerzler told ATPTour.com.

Thiem is not the only former Top 10 player in the PIF ATP Rankings connected to the rising star. Jurgen Melzer, who cracked the Top 10 in singles and doubles, has been coaching the #NextGenATP teen in Vienna for two-and-a-half years. The capital city is 600 kilometres from Schwaerzler’s home club in Hard, Austria, where his older brother Julian directs a tennis academy.

“[Jurgen and I] had a test practice where I used to practise and then he asked my dad if I was interested in going to the Federation because he took over the Federation,” said Schwaerzler, who is aiming for his maiden trip to the 20-and-under Next Gen ATP Finals presented by PIF, to be held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from 18-22 December.

“He wanted to make a big change, to make it more professional and make tennis big again in Austria. Not just practising with Jurgen, but also the team around him was a big reason why I moved to Vienna.”

Born in Sandton, South Africa, Schwaerzler’s first steps in the sport came alongside his father Matthias. Oftentimes Julian and Joel would contest a friendly — or not so friendly — brotherly battle.

“I remember losing a lot because he was always older. Even if I was slightly better at tennis than him, I knew I was going to lose because he’s going to provoke me so bad that I’m going to detach completely,” Schwaerzler said. “I never wanted to play with him and at some point I was just better than him because he didn’t practise, so it didn’t really make sense to check who is better.”

Joel Schwaerzler is the fourth-youngest Austrian winner in ATP Challenger Tour history.
Joel Schwaerzler is the fourth-youngest Austrian winner in ATP Challenger Tour history. Credit: Macedonian Open

Schwaerzler’s move to Austria at age seven sparked more playing opportunities. He went from playing one day a week to five. Two years ago, Schwaerzler had a light-bulb moment that gave him belief that he could compete professionally.

The lefty, who grew up idolising Rafael Nadal, won the 2022 U16 European Championships, a tournament that has boasted champions such as Carlos Alcaraz and Andrey Rublev in the past dozen years.

“That was the real start of my professional career,” Schwaerzler said. “Until age 15, 16, I was always a really good national player in Austria but never made it through internationally. After the European Championships, that really started — also with sponsors.”

At a career-high No. 387 in the PIF ATP Rankings, Schwaerzler can count on one hand how many ATP Challenger Tour tournaments he has played… and making history in the process is not a bad place to start.