The Wonderful World of Juniors; More Israelis Coming Next Year?

Original Article Published On The JP

The US Open Junior competition draws less attention than the seniors but provides a look into the future of tennis.

Tennis fans and those who just love a good sports story have been focused on the US Open.

Amid all of the deserved excitement for the pro players, juniors are often overlooked. At the US Open, crowds are always small for junior matches – sometimes attracting only 25-50 fans.

At Sunday’s first-round match, for example, 15-year-old Valerie Glozman from Bellevue, Washington, beat Yaroslava Bartashevic of France 7-5, 6-3. The American teenager has been in New York – without her parents – for two weeks as she received a wildcard in the women’s qualifying draw as a result of her good showing as runner-up at the national juniors tournament. In the ensuing round, Glozman got off to a promising start against the No. 1 seed, Sofia Costlulas of Belgium, before losing 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

“I never expected to be here, Being here was the biggest thing. I am excited to play. My strategy was to mix it up and break her rhythm.”

Valerie Glozman

“I never expected to be here,” said Glozman. “Being here was the biggest thing. I am excited to play. My strategy was to mix it up and break her rhythm.”

Glozman, the daughter of a Ukrainian Jewish father and a Taiwanese mother, regularly trains with hard-hitting male players in Washington due to the lack of available female partners.

Tennis (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Starting at an early age

Some fans (and writers) even find advantages to start following players when they are juniors.

“For me, the big advantage is that very few people pay any attention to juniors, so they are so happy when you cover them and you get to know them,” noted Sandra Harwitt, an experienced tennis writer covering the US Open this year for the Miami Herald.

“They always remember you,” added Harwitt, who has been in touch with Andy Roddick, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Sasha Zverev since they were juniors. The author of The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All, Harwitt is keenly aware of the fact that few successful juniors will rise to the ranks of the professional world. She notes, however, that some will “play their entire career in the Futures and Challengers [second and third tier] league.”

Matt Durno of Sharon, MA, was part of the small group watching the Glozman match.

“I am a player and new at it – it is fun to see the level you can achieve in a short time.”

Durno enjoyed watching Glozman and looked forward to sharing his observations with his tennis-playing children.

Other juniors to watch in this year’s tournament include boys No. 1 seed Daniel Vallejo of Paraguay, and Sofia Costoulas of Belgium, the girls’ top seed. Vallejo reached the boys’ doubles final at the 2022 Australian Open alongside partner Alex Michelsen of the United States, while Costoulas reached the girls’ singles final at the same Grand Slam. Both have reached career-highs of world No. 2 in their respective junior rankings.

Where are the Israelis?

There are junior boys and girls to watch from dozens of countries in the world – however, notably not from Israel. But, according to Eyal Taoz, director of Strategy and Projects at Israel Tennis and Education Centers, the wait may soon be over.

In past years, Israeli boys and girls have qualified to play at the US Open. Fans may recall such names as Leria Patiuk, Or Ram Harel, Bar Botzer and Yshai Oliel. But it has been quite a few years since they have been here.

“No one made it this year, but we have juniors ranked around 200 in the world or so, They are making nice progress and getting results.”

Eyal Taoz, director of Strategy and Projects at Israel Tennis and Education Centers

“No one made it this year, but we have juniors ranked around 200 in the world or so,” reported Taoz. “They are making nice progress and getting results.”

Taoz has eyes on such up-and-coming players including Ron Ellouck, Ofek Simanov, Volvo Basilevsky, Mika Buchnik and Karin Altori.

“Hopefully in the next three or four months, some will play in the Grand Slams.”

Some of these players will automatically move up 40 or 50 ranking points when the current 18-year-olds “age out” and are no longer able to play as juniors.

Ellouck, currently No. 1,239 in the world, played in the Wimbledon qualifiers but lost in the first round. He will turn 18 in November and no longer be eligible to play in the juniors.

Simanov, 17, is currently ranked 356 after reaching a career high of No. 272.

Buchnik may be the Israeli with the best shot at qualifying for a major tournament. The 15-year-old female phenom is ranked No. 143. She has been playing tennis since age four and the Tel Aviv native’s impressive accomplishments include a second-place finish in the 2021 U14 World Championship in France and the 2021 U14 Israeli Champion

Altori is a 16-year-old girl with unique family background and great potential. She is currently ranked No. 225 after reaching a high of No. 187. The Bedouin Israeli grew up in Rahat in the south and was inspired by her older brothers, Shadi and Samer, to pick up a racket, which she did at age five. Her family recently moved to Ramat Hasharon so they could train at the Israel Tennis Center there.

With or without Israelis in the US Open this year, the final week promises to be exciting.

And Israeli fans who still want to see more can attend or follow the Israel vs Czech Republic Davis Cup World Group I first-round matches in Tel Aviv on September 16-17, as well as the ATP 250 series Watergen Tel Aviv Open between September 25 and October 2.

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