Original Article Published at The Jerusalem post

This year’s US Open attracted more than 30,000 fans each day of the two-week tournament. And any time a Jewish or Israeli fan saw “ISR” next to a player’s name, they raced to the court to watch players like Dudi Sela, Yshai Oliel and Shelly Krolitzky. The same is true when such Israeli players as Shahar Pe’er, Julia Glushko and Amir Weintraub are in action.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that hundreds of non-Jewish, non-Israeli fans also watch Israel tennis players in action each year at the US Open and at dozens of other tennis tournaments around the world.

Israeli tennis players are excellent emissaries for Israel and can do amazing things for Israeli hasbara (public relations).

The Israeli tennis establishment can take a lesson from the Jewish Agency Shlichim (the Hebrew word for emissaries) program. In some ways, they are already doing a great job sending tennis ambassadors around the world. There is more work to do and some pretty easy solutions.

The Jewish Agency does a great job screening and training post-army (and in some cases, pre-army) young men and women to serve Jewish communities, camps and schools. They bring the multi-faceted people, cultures and stories of Israel and Israelis to these various communities.

The Israel tennis establishment, consisting primarily of the Israel Tennis Association, Israel Tennis Centers and the David Squad is blessed with a talented group of well-liked and well-spoken professional and amateur players of all ages who travel the world.

While their primary job is to play tennis, they represent Israel in tournaments around the world.

The Israel Tennis Centers sends a delegation of young players several times a year to exhibitions in various communities across the United States.

The group tends to reflect the diversity of Israel and Israel Tennis Centers, including players who are Ethiopian, Israeli Arab, Bedouin, people with disabilities, and children from poor backgrounds.

These groups help people better understand the many faces and stories of Israel. It is important to keep these emissaries – professional and amateur – trained and ready to speak about Israel.

There is an untapped group of tennis players from around the world who our Israel tennis establishment, Ministry of Culture and Sport and Ministry of Tourism, should also nurture as tennis ambassadors.

The more foreign tennis players have a positive experience with Israelis and Israel, the more Israel stands to make progress on the PR front.

Last February, I spent four days in Eilat covering the Fed Cup Group I Europe/Africa Zone event which included teams from 14 countries.

In Eilat, players from all countries as well as coaches, umpires and members of the media stayed in the same hotel and ate all their meals together. I interviewed many top 100 players, coaches and ITF (International Tennis Federation) staff.

I wanted to find out about their experience in Israel and with Israelis. All loved Israel but wished their busy travel and playing schedules would allow more opportunities to explore the beautiful, historically significant country of Israel.

Shlomo Glickstein, the CEO of the Israel Tennis Association and former 22nd ranked player in the world, observed that “it is very important for Israel to host such competitions and we love to host large events. It attracts sponsors, media and role models for our young players.”

These players return to their countries as great spokespeople for Israel.

Israel has an unprecedented opportunity to use tennis to teach the world about all the Holy Land has to offer. Israeli players should be coached and trained in hasbara, and players who come to Israel for tournaments should be wined and dined.

If they can’t get to see Israel, they should at least return with gift baskets stuffed with “I Love Israel” shirts, IDF hats, and such Israeli products as Ahava, Bisli and Naot.

Tennis players know all about love from the tennis scoring system. Wouldn’t it be nice if players also love Israel and spread that love around the world?

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Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

Shelly Krolitzky’s dream run in New York came to an end on Wednesday in the second round of the junior girls’ singles at the US Open.

After winning two matches in the qualifiers and coming through the first round of the main draw, the 17-year-old Israeli was stopped by No. 5 seed Kayla Day of the USA, losing 6-4, 6-3.

Despite being ranked 70 places below her opponent, Krolitzky gave Day a real run for her money before succumbing after one hour and 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, Yshai Oliel has a script for winning matches in the junior boys’ tournament: Go down a set, easily win the second and fight with all of his might in the third set to win the match.

Oliel battled Alex De Minaur of Australia, the tournament’s second seed, on a cloudy Flushing Meadows morning with wind gusts up to 30 MPH.

De Minaur took the first set 6-4. Oliel easily won the second 6-2. In the decisive hour long third set, Oliel fended off match point, rallied to 6-6 and won 7-2 in the tie breaker.

Oliel surely noticed the wind but did not change his strokes to compensate.

“It was hard to play in the wind, but I am happy I didn’t focus on it. If I focused on it, I wouldn’t be able to do anything,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

The usually modest, soft-spoken Oliel was proud of his victory. “I deserved to win. I wanted to win more than him.”

Oliel’s mental toughness helped him defeat the recent boys’ Wimbledon singles’ finalist, even when he was trailing.

“I was down 4-1 then 5-2 in the first set and had a chance to come back to 5-all but my serve was no good. He broke me and then I started fighting and kept fighting. I told myself to keep fighting and try my best and it will be fine.”

Coach Jan Pochter offered similar advice from the stands. “I heard him say to keep fighting, try to be aggressive. Try your best.”

The fight paid off. Oliel moves on to the third round and faces 13th seed Nicola Kuhn of Spain.

Oliel’s usual script changed somewhat unexpectedly at the end of the match. Ordinarily, Oliel returns to the locker room to shower and eat.

On Tuesday, admiring fans cheered and asked Oliel to sign autographs and pose for selfies. Members of the media requested two separate press conferences.

And Oliel learned that his doubles match with partner Zizou Bergs of Belgian was unexpectedly moved earlier due to a walkover in the previous match.

Following a slight rain delay, Oliel and Bergs easily defeated No. 8 seeds Eduard Guell Bartrina of Spain and Genaro Alberto Olivieri of Argentina 6-2, 6-2 in 52 minutes. They faced the American doubles team of Oliver Crawford and Patrick Kypson on Wednesday.

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Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

Oliel next faces No. 13 seed Nicola Kuhn of Spain for a place in the quarterfinals.

Yshai Oliel continued to show why he is touted as the future of Israeli tennis on Tuesday, advancing to the last 16 of the US Open Junior Boys’ tournament with a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(2) victory over No. 2 seed Alex De Minaur of Australia.

The 16-year-old Israeli saved a match point in the 10th game of the third set and clinched the win after two hours and two minutes.

Oliel, who made a name for himself by capturing both the 12s and 14s titles at the prestigious Junior Orange Bowl International in Florida, is currently ranked No. 39 among juniors, but proved he can compete with the very best against No. 2 De Minaur, who is at No. 614 in the senior rankings.

Oliel next faces No. 13 seed Nicola Kuhn of Spain for a place in the quarterfinals.

Late Monday, it took Shelly Krolitzky only 56 minutes to win her first round junior girls’ singles match.

Strong ground strokes and mental toughness helped Krolitzky cruise to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over American Abigail Desiatnikov, who had previously defeated Krolitzky at the Eddie Herr International Tennis Championship in Bradenton, Florida, this past December.

Krolitzky wasn’t pleased with her performance in her last match against Desiatnikov and vowed to do better.

“It wasn’t my best match. I told myself that this time, I would take every opportunity and take every chance,” the 17-year-old told The Jerusalem Post.

This time, Krolitzky controlled the game, occasionally moving to the net on strong serves.

Krolitzky was extremely pleased with her display in the first round.

“It is an amazing feeling. It is my first Grand Slam. I felt really good in the match and in the warm up before the match. I felt really energetic.”

Krolitzky appeared calm, happy and not particularly tired during the postmatch interview and her mental state was a key factor in her match success.

“I was thinking a lot about this match and meditated a lot beforehand.”

Krolitzky’s coach, Israel veteran Tzipi Obziler – who wasn’t able to accompany Krolitzky to New York – is very proud.

“Shelly is a very talented player, an athlete with strong capabilities. She has made great progress recently, and I hope to see her continue to advance in the junior rankings, play the main draw of Grand Slams and soon begin to play and make progress on the women’s tour. For me it is an honor to be part of the David Squad and to have the opportunity to work individually with Shelly.”

Despite the rigors of playing in a Grand Slam event, Krolitzky is managing to see a little of New York City.

“We went to Chinatown yesterday.

We saw a lot of Israeli people. I didn’t eat anything, but Yshai [Oliel] wanted to buy a watch.”

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Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

By the time Yshai Oliel clawed his way back to 2-2 in the third set of the first-round match in the Junior Boys’ singles tournament at the US Open versus Juan Carlos Manuel Aguilar of Bolivia, court 14 felt and sounded like countryman Dudi Sela’s first-round US Open thriller.

Oliel lost the first set 6-4 in 41 minutes and battled back to quickly take the second set in 19 minutes. Chants of “Yallah, Yshai,” “Kadima” and “let’s go, Yshai” from the packed stands turned to “mazal tovs” and requests for autographs when Oliel, down 2-0 in the third, closed out Aguilar 6-2 in the 29 minute third and final set.

Oliel certainly noticed the fans cheering for him. “I am proud of all the Israeli people and Jews who come to see us and cheer today.”

Oliel spoke with The Jerusalem Post in the US Open media center minutes after his match. “I feel very good and happy. I am excited.” Oliel reflected on the match and on his very successful year which includes winning the junior doubles title at the French Open. “I fought during the long match today. I still need to improve. To play more aggressive.”

Oliel feels he need to work on his volleys and to be more aggressive to achieve his goal of rising in the rankings.

Coach Jan Pochter, who has worked with Oliel since age 4, is similarly proud, though he acknowledges that Oliel got off to a slow start.

“He started nervous and tight and wasn’t his best. The other guy was aggressive and went for shots. Mentally, he was very tight. Then Yshai began to play much more aggressive and his opponent couldn’t match his rhythm.

He asked for a medical time out (perhaps a tactic to stop Yshai, who was in the zone), then Yshai came back. He lost two games, but still felt it was his match. I told him to concentrate and do your best and he did it.”

Pochter feels Oliel has tremendous potential. “He is one of the best players in the tournament, though mentally he has ups and towns. If he plays smooth, he will win.”

Oliel next faces No. 2 seed Alex De Minaur of Australia.

“If he plays his best, he has a good chance to win,” said Pochter.

Pochter is accompanying and coaching Israeli juniors Oliel and Shelly Krolitzky at the US Open. Both are members of the David Squad, an elite training organization which seeks to develop and train Israeli tennis players to be successful at the highest levels of international competition.

“I am proud to be a part of David Squad, I am proud of the team, and I appreciate David Coffer, who sponsors us,” said Oliel. “I hope I will be able to give him back all that he expects.”

“Without the David Squad, we would not get to the tournaments and get to the next level,” notes Pochter.

“This is a present for Israeli tennis that we have special people like David and Adam Coffer [David’s son]. It is like winning the lottery for these kids.”

Adam Coffer is proud of Oliel and the David Squad team.

“Yshai is an exceptional talent with a fantastic attitude. We are always so proud of him and the team. This is the natural progression reflecting the years of hard work he and all our team have put in. His and Shelly’s progress also sets the right example for the extremely talented younger kids we have coming through the DS family. But it is not our or their end goal – there are many more, higher, targets ahead for him.”

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