jewish athlete

Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

The eyes of the world are on the Boston Red Sox who are currently playing in baseball’s World Series against the Colorado Rockies. Star first baseman Kevin Youkilis was the subject of an amusing exchange last season between comedians Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke and the Red Sox announcers – all in the booth covering a Red Sox game. “That guy Youkilis is he Greek? Irish? No he’s Jewish!”; Another Boston athlete has been the source of some confusion this tennis season. “Amir Hadad – I didn’t know he was Jewish! I thought he was an Arab several Jewish sports fans reported, somewhat embarrassed. They did, however, note the irony of a Jew playing on a team named The Lobsters.”

Israeli tennis player Amir Hadad was one of five players on the co-ed Boston Lobsters World Team Tennis (WTT) team. World Team Tennis co-founded by Billie Jean King in 1974 features 11 teams from across the United States. Teams play a 14 ‘match’ season in the month of July. Unlike conventional first-to-six games sets (with winners being first to reach two or three sets) a WTT ‘set’ is the first player or team to win five games. A ‘match’ features five events – men’s singles women’s singles men’s doubles women’s doubles and mixed doubles. The winner of the match is the team to win the most games.

The six foot 185 pound right hander was born in Ramle and currently lives in Budapest with his wife of 10 years and their three-year-old daughter. Most of the Hadad family still lives in Israel and Amir reports that he plans to return to live in Israel in the future.

Hadad played for WTT’s St. Louis Aces in 2003 and 2004 and for the Boston Lobsters in 2006 and 2007. Hadad always enjoys the support he receives from the Jewish community while on the road. “The Jewish community is always so nice and supportive. I don’t spend so much time in Israel and it is tough to be away from home – and it is nice to come across Hebrew speakers on the road,” he says.

Hadad spent many years training at the Wingate Institute, where he frequently played with Israeli tennis players Andy Ram, Yoni Erlich, and Harel Levy. “We grew up there – Andy Yoni Harel and me,” notes Hadad, fondly recalling his days at Wingate. Hadad had hoped to meet up with Ram and Erlich during the WTT season – both were scheduled to play for the St. Louis Aces. Unfortunately they didn’t arrive in time for the Aces match against the Lobsters. Andy Ram and I spoke on the phone for an hour and a half.

Hadad 29 turned pro in 1995. He reached a career highest ranking of 87 (for doubles) in 2003 and a career highest of 180 for singles in the same year. He is currently ranked 842 in singles and 920 for doubles. Thus far in 2007 Hadad has reached the semifinals in two Futures tournaments. While Hadad has earned only slightly more than $20 this year he has earned a total of $248,588 during his 12 year professional tennis career.

In past years Hadad has qualified for several prestigious tournaments including Wimbledon, the French Open and the US Open. In 1999 Hadad lost in the first round in the Wimbledon singles tournament. In the 2002 French Open he lost in the second round. Hadad is perhaps best known around the world for playing doubles in the 2002 Wimbledon tournament with Aisam Ul-Haq Quereshi, a Pakistani Muslim. The pair reached the third round at Wimbledon after upsetting the 11th seeds in the second round.

While Hadad and Quereshi never intended to make a statement by teaming up, their pairing made international news. The Pakistani Sports Board threatened to ban Quereshi for teaming with an Israeli Jew. In contrast Hadad received support from his fellow citizens and his government. In time the Pakistani government’s threat was rescinded and Quereshi was invited to join Pakistan’s Davis Cup team. Quereshi interviewed this summer after a grueling day of both singles and doubles at the Campbell’s Tennis Championships at Newport Rhode Island said he was proud of his partnership with Hadad at Wimbledon.

“We teamed up to do well not for the image he said. Quereshi is proud of his decision to play with Hadad and feels, You don’t mix politics and religion with sports.” Hadad still feels warmly toward Quereshi and affectionately tells the story of how they began playing together. “We played against each other twice and I beat him both times. The third time I asked him if he wanted to join me. We had one thing in common – tennis. We played great together and we have fun on and off the court.” Quereshi and Hadad clearly shared more than a love for tennis. Hadad reports that at tournaments the two stayed in the same hotel, ate all their meals together, hung out before the matches, practiced together and met each other’s families. “They are nice people. They are the same like us and they are comfortable to be around,” he said.

Following their success at Wimbledon, the two decided to team up again at the 2002 US Open. They were awarded a wild card by the tournament and won their first-round match. In February 2003 both were awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award. I found out about it while at a tournament – the Belgrade Challenger – when an umpire came up to me and told me. I didn’t know how prestigious it was. Then I found out that people like Agassi Edberg Roddick and Nelson Mandela had received it. I have the trophy in my house says Hadad. Receiving the award was a great honor echoes Quereshi.

Both men hold firm in their convictions that sports transcends politics and religion. Hadad adds, “Everybody can connect through sports. The religion of the player doesn’t matter.”

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