Israel sports

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Nadal advanced to Friday’s semifinals, his eighth US Open final four.

Diego Schwartzman’s storied US Open run came to an end in the early hours of Thursday morning in three hard-fought sets against Rafael Nadal, with a final result of 6-4, 7-5, 6-2

The Spaniard had beaten Schwartzman all seven times they’ve played, including a straight-set win in the third round of the 2015 US Open. Schwartzman had won only two sets in the previous 17 against Nadal. The 27-year-old Argentine Jew, who beat Alexander Zverev to advance to the quarterfinals, was the only player to win a set off Nadal at the 2018 French Open, when Nadal went on to win his 11th Rolland Garros title.

While Nadal took Thursday’s match in straight sets, the match was not easy for the second seed. In the first two sets, Nadal raced to double-break leads. However, a number of misfires by the 33-year-old Spaniard allowed Schwartzman to get back into each set.

The momentum appeared to shift for Schwartzman in the seventh game of the second set. Down 5-1, Schwartzman broke Nadal twice to tie the score at five apiece. Prior to the match, Nadal’s serve had only been broken twice at Flushing medals; Schwartzman broke Nadal four times.

Following a difficult passing winner, the crowd stood and cheered, calling out Schwartzman’s name.  Schwartzman repeatedly pumped his fists toward the packed, Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd and, inspired by the fans’ enthusiasm, continued to fight.

“It crazy,” said Schwartzman. “It’s nice when it’s happening on court, the big points and when you win the big points. I took a lot of confidence after that point.”

Nadal held serve to go up 6-5 as the match clock topped two hours. Schwartzman served and saved three match points before going down 7-5.

The players stayed on serve in the third set before Nadal broke Schwartzman in game six to go up 4-2. While the match appeared to be winding down, Nadal showed signs of wear and tear, receiving treatment from the trainer on his left forearm.

Nadal mustered strength and came out fighting, winning nine of 10 points in games five through seven.  At 30-30 in the third set’s eighth game, Schwartzman hit long before hitting the final shot of the match into the net.

The old friends embraced at the net.  The crowd cheered the hard-working Schwartzman who stayed on court to sign autographs for late-night fans.

In the 1 a.m. media session, Schwartzman was asked to describe Nadal’s tenacity.

“He is like a lion in the middle, you know, in the jungle. He’s a fighter. He knows how to play the important moments every single time. I have played him eight times, and every important moment he played better than me!”

Nadal advanced to Friday’s semifinals, his eighth US Open final four, against 24th-seeded Italian Matteo Berrettini of Italy. The big-hitting Berrettini outlasted No. 13 Gael Monfils of France 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5) in Wednesday’s thrilling five-setter. 

The other men’s semi features No. 5 Daniil Medvedev vs Grigor Dimitrov, while on the women’s side, Serena Williams faces Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic takes on Bianca Andreescu.

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Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

When the going gets tough, the coach stays calm. Even during a heart-breaking loss for Yshai Oliel in the junior boys’ doubles semifinals at the US Open, coach Jan Pochter appeared relaxed.

Pochter accompanied the 16-year-old Israeli tennis player to New York for his week of juniors’ singles and doubles play at the US Open.

Pochter sat in the stands and maintained eye contact with Oliel.

Pochter studied each point Oliel played in his singles and doubles matches. Pochter will bring his thoughtful analysis and insight back to Israel and use it in his work to help bring him to the next level of play.

During their week in New York, Pochter watched Oliel come back from one set down in both the first and second rounds, even taking out the tournament’s second seed.

Pochter calmly watched Oliel receive a medical timeout to treat his leg early in his third round singles loss to No. 13 seed Nicola Kuhn.

And Pocther calmly watched as Oliel won two pulse-raising doubles matches in a super tiebreaker.

Fridays’ later afternoon doubles semifinals match against Juan Carlos Manuel Aguilar of Bolivia and Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves of Brazil was the ultimate testament to Pochter’s calm demeanor.

The doubles teams battled to a 4-4 tie in the first set on the way to a 6-4 Oliel/Bergs win.

In the second set, Oliel and Bergs’ 3-2 lead faded as their opponents battled back to a 6-6 tie, and crushed Oliel and Bergs 7-1 in the tiebreaker.

Pochter never flinched. Even trailing in the 10-point super tiebreaker 5-0, then 6-0, then 7-0, Pochter’s only response was a reassuring, “Fight ’til the end.” The end was near.

Aguilar and Alves won 10-2 to advance to the finals. Oliel, who won this year’s Roland Garros junior doubles title in June, left New York for Israel late Saturday night.

Pochter was doing double duty at this year’s US Open.

He also filled in for coach Tzipi Obziler. Oblizer was unable to coach Israeli junior girls’ player, Shelly Krolitzky through her two doubles qualifying matches and her US Open main draw singles and doubles matches.

Krolitzky returned to Israel on Friday.

For a coach, tournaments like the US Open are learning opportunities.

“The tournament was a good experience for Yshai,” said Pochter. “I think he learned that he needs to get stronger physically and mentally and to improve all parts of his game. If he does, he has a chance to become a very good player. We look forward to him playing on the professional level. I think he can do it.”

Pochter was impressed with Yshai’s performance and partially credits the Israeli and Jewish crowd who consistently filled the stands.

“The US Open is one of the best places to play. The atmosphere is amazing.”

Oliel, the tall, hard hitting left-hander with solid ground strokes and serve, showed the New York crowd how much potential he has.

Unlike the biblical Samson, who lost his strength after his hair was cut, Oliel seems to get only stronger post coiffing.

And Yshai’s motives for cutting his signature long hair were more earnest than in the Samson story.

“I cut it because one of my sister’s told me it is too long and I need to be more like a man. I donated it for children with cancer,” said Oliel.

Yshai is the youngest of five Oliel children.

While coach Pochter may have some specific areas for Oliel to focus on, he is not likely to address an area in need of improvement which was very obvious to members of the media. The sweet, modest player of humble roots could use some media training.

After he took out No. 2 seed and spoke to The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz journalists, another four writers, including US Open staff reporters, requested a press conference.

While Oliel was pleasant and cooperative, and his English was quite good, he didn’t have much to offer. He answered all questions, but didn’t elaborate, share or come across as full of life and great stories.

A trusted writer colleague present at the interview shared: “He could use some media coaching.”

Oliel will likely continue on a path of tennis success and will represent Israel tennis and Israel in many venues around the world.

The David Squad, ITA and various top coaches are working on his game.

I would love to see English speakers with media training reach out to Yshai and volunteer to help him get to the next level.”

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israel will play in Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I for an eighth straight year in 2017 after losing 3-0 to Ukraine in Eilat on Saturday.

A 2-1 win over Croatia on Friday wrapped up first place in Pool C for Israel, but Julia Glushko and Shahar Pe’er ran out of steam on Saturday and couldn’t beat the strong Ukrainians to advance to the World Group II playoffs.

Pe’er, ranked No. 189 in the world, lost 6-1, 6-1 to Kateryna Bondarenko (73) before Glushko (126) fell 7-6 (1), 7-6 (2) to Lesia Tsurenko (35).

Shelly Krolitzky and Alona Pushkarevsky lost 6-2, 6-2 to Bondarenko and Olga Savchuk in the meaningless doubles rubber.

“This was a very long week and I woke up feeling completely exhausted,” said Glushko.

“Even though I feel a little sad now, I will try and take the positives from this week.”

Pe’er was also hopeful of building on her performances in Eilat over recent days.

“I end this week feeling much stronger and I’m going all the way in 2016,” said Pe’er. “I will give my all and hopefully the coming weeks will go well. There is no doubt in my mind that I’m a good enough player to be ranked in the top 100.”

Pe’er kicked off the action for Team Israel on Center Court in Saturday afternoon’s match against Ukraine’s Bondarenko.

This time, the hard-hitting Pe’er’s unforced errors, six double faults and generally weak serve made it impossible to recover from a 6-1 deficit in the first set. Pe’er went on to lose the match in 64 minutes.

Glushko faced off against Tsurenko in a hard fought, back and forth, two hours singles marathon. Glushko went up 1-0, and quickly fell behind 4-1 before going up 5-4. Glushko lost in the first set tie-breaker, only winning two points. In a heartbreaker second set, Glushko fell in a tiebreaker despite being up 3-0 and 5-3. Following the last point, Glushko pointed a finger at the chair umpire, said “no, no, no,” threw her racket and appeared teary in protest of what she thought was a bad call.

Belgium joined Ukraine in the playoffs, with Israel and Great Britain finishing in 3rd and 4th place.

Friday’s matches started late due to the long Belgium versus Bulgaria doubles match on Center Court. Pe’er battled back from a 6-3, 1-0 deficit to defeat Tena Lukas in two hours.

Pe’er hit hard from the baseline, moving Lukas from corner to corner and winning many long rallies. In the second match, Glushko went down to Ana Konjuh in straight sets, 7-6, 6-1.

Pe’er brought Glushko back to life in the doubles match versus Konjuh and Darija Jurak.

The Croatian team got off to a 4-1 lead before the Israeli team fought back with five straight games, to win 6-4, 7-6.

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israel enters Friday’s Fed Cup Europe/ Africa Zone Group I tie against Croatia in Eilat still in contention to advance to the World Group II playoffs after defeating Estonia 3-0 on Thursday.

After falling 2-1 to Turkey in its opening Pool C tie, the blue-and-white bounced back with an emphatic victory, with Shahar Pe’er and Julia Glushko triumphing in their singles rubbers before teaming up to complete the whitewash with a win in the doubles.

Pe’er, ranked No. 189 in the world, easily defeated Valeria Gorlats (1,008) 6-0, 6-3, while Glushko (126) beat Anett Kontaveit (80) 6-3, 6-3. She returned to court less than an hour later and together with Pe’er claimed a 6-3, 6-2 win over Gorlats and Maileen Nuudi.

Israel faces Croatia in its final Pool C tie on Friday.

The group winner will face the winner of Pool A on Saturday for a place in the World Group II playoffs, while the bottom-placed nations will play to determine relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group II in 2017.

Pe’er quickly and smoothly knocked off Gorlats, with the bright sun barely having time to duck behind the grandstand during the 65-minute match. Pe’er made few unforced errors, won 80% of points on first serve, and won 66% of break points – to Goralts’s 16%.

Excessive cheering and chanting of the crowd, which consisted of many school children who seemed to stop by on the way home from school, contributed to the upbeat, festive mood. In somewhat uncharacteristic fashion, a smiling Pe’er signed autographs and posed for selfies.

Glushko battled Kontaveit in a slugfest, coming out on top in straight sets.

Captain Tzipi Obziler used each changeover for coaching and words of encouragement to a worn Glushko.

“She was a little tense, and was under a lot of pressure,” observed Israel coach Sandra Wasserman, describing the hour and eight minute match.

The crowd, which required several warnings from the chair to quiet down, helped both players.

Team Israel has spent long days at the Eilat Tennis Center.

Wednesday’s doubles match against Turkey ended just before 11 p.m.

Among the die-hard fans who stayed until the end to cheer on the Israeli doubles team were a group of 8-14 year old female athletes from Athena, Israel’s project for the promotion of women’s sports in Israel.

Mary Pierce, a former third-ranked Grand Slam champion and recently elected board member of the International Tennis Federation, presented a clinic, shared her personal story, and entertained questions Thursday morning at Eilat’s Isrotel Tennis Club.

The Israel team took a break from an early afternoon practice on Center Court on Thursday to participate in the Fed Cup official Opening Ceremony. Each team filed in to Center Court behind country flags. Players, captains and coaches were all introduced by name.

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