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Israeli tennis is coming of age

  • Sport
Tennis is a strange game. Without warning from nowhere there can arise a prodigy. Statistics and ratios certainly count for something, as in the case of Spain where more tennis activity goes on than in most other parts of the world, resulting in more Spanish players in pro-tennis competition than any other country.
by ILAN HERRMANN | Aug 13, 2014
 

It can, however, happen that a player from a country with relatively little tennis history can arrive and impact the scene.

Israel has long been a nation “in process”. Developing infrastructure has not been easy and so the players to compete on the world circuit are few. That said, we are witnessing a relatively good era in Israeli tennis with a number of promising players who are showing talent and are on the way up.

Take the French open a short while back. Ukrainian-born Israeli immigrant Julia Gloshko reached the third round and it took a Grand Slam winner in the form of Sara Errani to knock her out.

Dudi Sela (ranked 102nd), Amir Weintraub (203rd), Shahar Pe'er (97th) and Julia Gloshko (103rd) are Israel's regular players on the circuit.

Israel's best doubles players, Johnathan Erlich and Andy Ram also feature with consistently good results on the tennis circuit.

Ronen Moralli, head coach of the Israeli tennis team, sees the focus on structuring foundation tennis with a focus on youth as paramount. It is this that will translate into more players coming through in the time ahead.

His motto of group training also allows the players with passion but who lack the edge in their game, to remain involved and who he feels might blossom down the line.

Politics and religion have played there part with the ITA (Israeli Tennis Association). A while back in a Davis Cup fixture against Belgium, Israel refused to play because it fell on Yom Kippur which resulted in some back and forth with the World Tennis Federation.

This did not phase the ITA. Chairman Asi Touchmair said: “As an institution that represents the State of Israel and its values, we in the Israeli Tennis Association stand proud, before all those who refuse to recognise the importance of the Jewish tradition, on behalf of Israel and Jews the world over.”

Israel has at times had to deal with visas and travel access. Recently an incident occurred where, because of his nationality, an Israeli soccer player Dan Mori was barred entry into Abu Dhabi with his Dutch club Vitesse. This echoed an incident in 2009 in which Shahar Pe’er was barred entry into Dubai for a tennis tournament. The latter had repercussions.

“Shahar Pe’er was victimised by an unjust policy of discrimination by the UAE," said Larry Scott the chief executive of the women's tennis tour. UAE were fined $300 000.

Another challenge facing Israeli players is conscription to the IDF. Where previously only the top seed player was exempt, further leverage now allows the top three exemption and thus the freedom to focus on their tennis at that critical stage in their late teens.

Moralli himself recalls how he was ranked number three in Israel but due to the policy was constricted and ended up serving as a tank commander.

A setback occurred recently when after a bridging arrangement between ITA and South African Tennis, Moralli came to run a successful exchange programme in Soweto but now were told the reverse trip to Israel could not go through. Four players and a coach were supposed to visit Israel, but the official word from the South Africans was that lack of funding resulted in the cancellation.

On the positive side, the Israel Tennis Centre has had a great boost with the recent development of five artificial clay courts which Moralli claims are the preferred surface for players to develop in the game.

“The game has become very physical. The mental stress is also enormous on a prospective player. Technical talent is a must. To produce a champion is becoming that much more challenging,” says Moralli, “but we are determined to put Israel further on the map of world tennis.”

Israel has sowed the seeds and awaits the day that “the prodigy” arrives to take the ITA to the next level.

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