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New Yorkers wondered where all the Israelis were?
September 13, 2017 by Howard Blas

NEW YORK – Three weeks of US Open tennis – from the qualifiers and the finals – drew to a close Sunday evening in New York City. Even with the absence of big names like Novak Djokavic, Andy Murray and Serena Williams, the tournament generated a great deal of excitement.

Four American women met in the semifinals for the first time since 1981, when names Austin, Navratolova and Everet graced the hallowed grounds of Flushing Meadows. Juan Martin del Potro knocked out Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, making a much anticipated, first-ever Nadal/Federer US Open meeting impossible. And the success of Denis Shapovalov reminds us there are many up-and-coming young players to watch.

As players from around the world return home for rest, family time, additional training and the Davis Cup, it is a good time to reflect on the state of Israel tennis.

As always, Dudi Sela was a crowd pleaser, always willing to sign one more autograph or pose for a selfie, even after a disappointing loss. And Yshai Oliel proudly represented Israel in juniors singles and doubles, though the 17-year-old, highly seeded in both, was knocked out earlier than expected.

Overall it was a very poor turnout for Israeli tennis players at this year’s US Open.

In past years, cheering Israeli and Jewish fans might have caught a glimpse of Shahar Pe’er, Julia Glushko, Jonathan Erlich, Amir Weintraub, Andy Ram (long retired) and such rising juniors as Shelly Krolitzky, Or Ram-Harel, Bar Botzer and Valeria Patiuk. In 2011, lucky fans even got to see top blue-and-white wheelchair tennis player Noam Gershony in action.

I long for those days. More than a few fans at Sela and Oliel singles and doubles matches saw my media credentials for The Jerusalem Post and wondered “Where are the Israelis?”

This year, Glushko and Erlich did not rank high enough to qualify. Krolitzky seems to be focusing on rising from the lower echelons professional tennis; during the US Open she played in pro tournaments in Ricany, Czech Republic and in Antalya, Turkey. And most of the Israeli juniors who once competed at the US Open have been lured away from Israel and are playing for American college tennis teams: Patiuk at Michigan, Botzer at Wake Forest and Ram-Harel at University of Tulsa.

Sadly, Israel provided the same number of males in the men’s singles draw (one!) as Barbados, Cyprus, Korea, Moldova and Tunisia. Even Paraguay had one woman in the draw; China and Croatia each had five.

When will fans of Israel tennis have something to cheer about?

That is a tough question to answer, though Israel Tennis Centers serve over 20,000 Israeli children every year and even offers a high performance program. And the David Squad, which boasts that it is “building the future of elite Israeli tennis” though its massive support of Oliel and others, only managed to produce one player at this year’s US Open.

Hopefully, the upcoming September 15-17 Davis Cup tie will give fans of Israel tennis something to cheer about. Look for young hopefuls like Edan Leshem, 21, and Mor Bulis 20, as they play with more established teammates Sela and Erlich as the blue-and-white battles Ukraine in the first round of the Group I Europe/ Africa Relegation Play-Offs.
Filed under: Jerusalem Post