Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post
Relentless Israeli tennis player Anna Pistolesi, nee Smashnova, is racking up the wins, mostly Howard Blas New Haven Just before the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows in late August, Anna Pistolesi faced the world’s No. 14 player, Vera Zvonereva of Russia, in the second round of the Pilot Pen Tournament in New Haven, Connecticut,
comebacks in the history of women’s tennis.” After being down 0-6, 1- 5 the 27-year-old Israeli won the second set 7-6 and the third 6-2.
No less an authority as Serena Williams has said of Pistolesi, “She’ll probably tire you to death or run you to the point where you just can’t run anymore – then she’ll probably come up with winners in the third set.” But even the toughest and fittest must give somewhere, and Pistolesi lost to Jennifer Capriati in the third round, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1, breaking off a series of 14 victories, which had seen her win home titles in Poland and Finland, and taken her to the no. 21 place in the world ratings. In the U.S. Open, seeded 22, she crashed out in the first round.
Pistolesi is a fairly new name on the women’s pro circuit, but Anna isn’t. Until she married her Italian coach, Claudio Pistolesi, in an Italian civil ceremony in December 2000, she was known as Anna Smashnova and still signs her autographs that way.
Smashnova sounds like a great name for a tennis player, but it was hardly apt in Pistolesi’s case – she hardly ever ventures to the net and is far more well known for her relentlessly steady baseline ground strokes than overhead kills. Said Capriati, after their New Haven match: “She’s like playing a brick wall. She really moves well out there. She fights for every ball, just tries for everything.”
I’d heard that Pistolesi receives death threats at tournaments as an Israeli and therefore only talks about tennis. But speaking with her after her amazing second round recovery in New Haven, she warmed up, sharing her family’s immigration and absorption story with the same comfort as her tennis story.
The modest, 5-foot 2-inch Pistolesi arrived in Israel with her family from Minsk, Belarus, in September 1990 at the age of 14, the number one player in her age group in the Soviet Union. Asked about the move, she says, “We came to Israel because we are Jewish. And yes, it did
help my tennis – there were more opportunities and more chances to succeed in Israel.” Pistolesi credits the authorities for helping her in her acclimation to Israel, as well as her engineer father Sasha, mother Zina and brother Yura. “I was very happy, excited to come to Israel. Everything was new. I went to school and played tennis,” Pistolesi recalls happily. “For me, everything was very organized.”
For her parents, though, “it was very hard, very tough… They didn’t know the language, the people. But Israel really helps immigrants. They took very good care in the beginning.” Pistolesi also feels that her parents, who view themselves as both Russian and Israeli, “have given a lot to the country.”
In 1991, a year after arriving in Israel, Pistolesi won the French Open junior title. In 1994, while still a student at the American International High School in Kfar Shmaryahu, outside Tel Aviv, she turned pro, and was named Tennis Magazine/Rolex Watch Female Rookie of the Year. In 1995 she made it to the fourth round of the French Open. Unlike her professional peers, Pistolesi took a slight detour the next two years, returning home to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. While she doesn’t feel she received preferential treatment as a soldier – she served with a select group of prominent athletes – she suggests that her army duties were less than rigorous. “We worked in the army 4-5 hours a day, but we had all kinds of excuses [to be let off] – practice mornings and evenings, travel, tournaments. I did whatever I could.”
In 2000, Pistolesi attended the Vavassori Tennis Academy in Milan, Italy, where she met Claudio Pistolesi, a former No. 71 player in the world, with a fine reputation as a “tennis technician.” She later began training with Claudio, who now runs the Tennis Academy in Rome.
But Pistolesi hasn’t said goodbye to Israel. “I have been playing for Israel for 12 years in the Federation Cup. Every tournament I play, I represent Israel,” she says, and emphatically denies having any problems or uncomfortable moments on the tour because she is Israeli. “No, actually it is very nice when I come to a tournament to be Israeli and Jewish.”