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Open Season: Part 1
October 15, 2009 by Howard Blas and Jamie Zimmer

The US was awash with tennis champions during the US Open and the many lead-up competitions that preceded it. D”ash American correspondent Howard Blas had the opportunity to catch up with two of Israel’s leading tennis players, Shahar Pe’er and Dudi Sela during the competition.
Tennis is one of the world’s leading international sports. Players and fans from all around the world converge upon Roland Garros (French Open), Wimbledon (Wimbledon), Melbourne Park (Australian Open) and Flushing Meadows (US Open) to see the world’s best tough it out game after game, set after set, in impossible heat, in order to bring home the trophy, the crown of the tennis world.

Though they haven’t won a grand slam tournament yet, Israeli tennis stars Shahar Pe’er and Dudi Sela are on the rise, and have captured the hearts of Israeli and Jewish tennis fans across the globe. Earlier in 2009, Shahar Pe’er made headlines around the world when she was denied a visa for Dubai in order to compete in the Dubai Tennis Championships, only because she was Israeli. Also earlier in the year, Dudi Sela put Israel squarely on the tennis map during the Davis Cup’s quarterfinal men’s singles match, which was played at the Nokia Stadium in Tel Aviv. To the home crowd’s delight, Sela knocked over Russian tennis giant Mikhail Youzny to get to the semifinals. D”ash American correspondent, Howard Blas, had the opportunity to catch up with Israel’s tennis stars during the Pilot Pen, a US open warm-up. This month we are featuring Shahar Pe’er and next month we will be featuring Dudi Sela.

Shahar Pe’er is one of the highest ranked women’s tennis players in Israel’s history. She and Anna Smashnova, another Israeli tennis champion, have each reached 15th in the world. The 22 year old Pe’er was born in Jerusalem and when she is not playing tennis around the world, lives in Maccabim. She enjoys reading and romance movies! She has an older brother Shlomi, who is 29 and an older sister, Shani, who is 26. Her mother, Aliza, is a retired sports teacher and her father, Dovik, is CEO of a software company. She comes from an athletic family. Her father was an award winning swimmer and her mother was a champion sprinter. D”ash reporter Howard Blas briefly met Pe’er at the Pilot Pen, a tennis tournament in New Haven, Connecticut, which serves as a warm up to the U.S. Open.
How many times have you played in the US Open? What is your current ATP ranking? “This is my fifth time playing in the U.S. Open (first time was 2005). I am currently ranked 64th in the world.”

Do you enjoy playing overseas? “I never play in Israel. There are no tournaments in Israel! (The only time I play in Israel is in the nationals). So I am always playing tennis overseas—it is my life, my job, my career. I enjoy traveling. It is part of what I do.”

What’s your greatest challenge as an athlete? “It is not so hard being an athlete. I enjoy what I do. I guess the greatest challenge is playing well.”

What’s your greatest challenge as an Israeli athlete? “It is not so challenging being an Israeli athlete. I am proud of Israel and I enjoy representing Israel.”

When competing overseas, do you find a lot of Israelis/Jews come to support you? “Yes, especially places like New York at the U.S. Open and Melbourne at the Australian Open. Israelis and Jews come out to cheer and show support.”

How does Israel’s prowess on the Tennis court affect public opinion about Israel, in your opinion? “I am not sure what people think about Israel or about Israeli tennis. I hope it is positive. I hope they are happy watching Israelis playing the sport.”

Can you tell our readers about your army service? Was it a tough decision to do it since you are a professional athlete? Or was it important simply because you are Israeli? “Going in to the army is natural. Everyone does it for their country. I am happy I did it. I did what I had to do for my country.”

You’ve had a couple of interesting, somewhat high profile incidents in the past few years. First, what was it like teaming up with Indian Sania Mirza for doubles and what was your reaction to playing with a Muslim player? “We were friends before we played together and we are still good friends. We don’t involve any politics on the court.”

How do you feel now looking back on the Dubai incident in February? How did it feel to have the support of Venus Williams and other players? Note: Peer was prevented from playing at the Dubai Tennis Championships in the United Arab Emirates since she was deniedavisa. Many players condemned this action and some sponsors pulled out. The tournament organizers were also forced to pay major fines for this action. Israeli tennis player Andy Ram was given a visa for the same tournament the following week.

“It was not a happy thing. I was not happy about it. I was happy that other players came out and supported me. I was especially proud of Andy Roddick.”

If you had a message for all of your fans out there, Israeli, Jewish or otherwise, what would it be? “Work hard and enjoy what you are doing.”
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