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Yshai Oliel may become Israel’s Novak Djokovic

  • 1-Milner Jack
Teenager Yshai Oliel is been groomed to be Israel’s Novak Djokovic, thanks to support from a British businessman.
by JACK MILNER | May 04, 2016

In December 2013 I attended the final Nike Junior Tour International Masters tennis tournament in Florida in the United States.

It was a tournament especially for under-12 and under-14 boys and girls and was made up of teams of four players of each sex and age group from some 26 countries. There were also a number of players the sponsors were keen to get under their wing or who they had already signed up and these youngsters were given wild cards into the tournament.

It had run since 1997 but as the age of players breaking into the top 100 was going up all the time, Nike opted to drop the tournament and spend the money elsewhere. It had been a great success for them as the likes of Rafael Nadal, Robin Soderling, Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Roberto Bautista Agut had all made their mark at the NJT International Masters.

One of the most exciting players to come out of the 2013 tournament was an Israeli 12-year-old by the name of Yshai Oliel. It is always tough to tell at that age whether a kid will make it or not, but Oliel did have all the necessary talent and an excellent work ethic. The talented left-hander has the whole package and looks to be the real deal.

Although he lost in the final to Rudi Molleker, another massive prospect from Germany, Oliel did go on to win the Orange Bowl in his age group. Interestingly, he and Molleker have been playing doubles together with some success.

But tennis is a very expensive sport and all the travelling, training and coaching costs a lot of money. Israeli players have suffered from not getting the necessary financial support.

However, luckily for Oliel he has been noticed by London businessman David Coffer who is hoping the teenager from Ramla can one day join the ranks of Novak Djokovic and the like and he’s backing up his dream with the funding to groom the hard-hitting youngster for stardom.

Oliel is the most promising member of the David Squad, a small group of young Israeli tennis players who Coffer along with his wife Ruth, and three children, finances and manages. It picks the nation’s most talented up-and-comers - the five members now range in age from 12 to 16 - who Coffer (67) hopes will soon become household names.

The squad is committed to “developing Israeli tennis players of the highest international standards”, according to their website. Since their launch in 2005, Coffer, the chairman of a real estate advisory firm and owner of the popular Tuttons and Dirty Martini restaurant and bars in London, estimates he has financed 100 children and teenagers.

The name is a reference to King David, “the greatest hero of Israel’s history”.

World No 1 Djokovic personifies Coffer’s hopes for Israeli tennis. He is hoping his players can also win lots of Grand Slams and woo fans for their country.

“Imagine eight million Israelis glued to their television sets and not moving until the final game of Wimbledon is over,” he muses. “It would mean so much to have a champion - we will cry with joy.”

Israeli players such as Dudi Sela, Andy Ram, Shahar Peer (a NJT International Masters finalist in 2001) and Julia Glushko have enjoyed some success on international level. Ram and Yoni Erlich won the Australian Open doubles title several years ago but have never approached the top of the world rankings in singles.

Oliel provides some optimism. The 15-year-old has made his mark already by twice winning the prestigious Junior Orange Bowl tournament in Florida - only the ninth player in the competition’s 70-year history to accomplish this feat.

Along with developing champions on the court, the David Squad also aims to create a good name for Israel, says managing director and head coach, Andy Zingman, a former Argentine tennis player, “all without political involvement”.

Coffer’s son, Adam, points out that countries today curry favour through sport, as they have for many years. He points to Djokovic: “If you stopped someone in the streets 10 years ago, most people would say his was a country of wars and murder. Today, thanks to Novak, half the people will say that the Serbs are nice, athletic, smiling people.”

David Coffer says Oliel, the son of Moroccan Jews, has similar attributes. “People may warm to Yishai - to his smile, to his talent. We could win friends. So we are here to find talent and nurture it.”

The squad mostly trains in Raanana but they make occasional training trips to destinations such as South Florida and Spain to train with extended members of the David Squad family, including former pros Aaron Krickstein and Manuel Santana.

“My father could afford to put them up in a hotel,” Adam Coffer says, “but we all stay together in our home,” he said, referring to Spain and Florida. “They spend time together, feed off each other, pick each other up and share in the glory - you can’t put a price on that.”

Being part of the squad requires commitment by the players and their parents, who must abide by a strict code of ethics: Play to win, play fair, respect yourself - and, most important, Coffer says, “respect your parents”, who don’t join their children on trips around the world.

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