Original Post Published at The Jerusalem Post

Israeli beaten in five sets by Cuevas; Djokovic, Nadal overcome wrist injuries to advance.

Dudi Sela was knocked out in the first round of a Grand Slam event for the fifth time in the past six tournaments on Monday, losing a five-set thriller to No. 18 seed Pablo Cuevas in the US Open in New York.

The 31-year-old Israeli, ranked No. 80 in the world, battled back from two sets down to force a decider, but required treatment on his right hand at the start of the fifth set and was beaten 6-3, 6-2, 0-6, 5-7, 6-3 after three hours and two minutes.

“I started off playing really bad, I was tight. Then in the third set, I broke him and held and I played a little better and more aggressive and took charge of the match from that point,” Sela told The Jerusalem Post. “I then had cramping in my fingers and had a hard time holding the racket when serving. I also had cramping in my shoulder and then I made too many mistakes.”

Sela, who will remain in Flushing Meadows to take part in the men’s doubles tournament with Frenchman Stephane Robert, was playing in his first event since the Rio Olympics.

“It was a great experience. It was very different from any other tournaments I have played in,” he said. “It was my first time in the Olympics. The Israel delegation was really professional and really good.”

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic opened the defense of his US Open title with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 win over Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz on Monday, but the labored performance gave rise to fresh concerns about the world number one’s fitness.

After a sizzling start to the season that brought grand slam wins No. 11 and 12 at the Australian and French Opens, Djokovic’s form has plummeted, with a third-round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon followed by a first-round exit at the Rio Olympics.

The Serb might have been in trouble on another day at Flushing Meadows but Janowicz, ranked 246 places below Djokovic, has advanced from the first round just once in four previous US Open visits and looked unlikely to do it again on Monday.

Djokovic, a US Open finalist five of the last six years, next faces Czech Jiri Vesely.

Djokovic arrived in New York having been hampered by a left wrist injury and distracted by undisclosed “private matters” and on Monday trainers were called out early in the opening set to work on his right forearm.

Several times during the two hour, 37 minute match, Djokovic could be seen grimacing when hitting his powerful forehand, while his serve rarely looked threatening, stuck at around 100 mph.

“It was just prevention, it’s all good,” Djokovic told reporters.

“Look, each day presents us some kind of challenges that we need to accept and overcome.

“After all I’ve been through in the last couple of weeks it’s pleasing to finish the match and win it.”

The year’s final grand slam got off to a glitzy Hollywood-style start, with a performance from Phil Collins to mark the arrival of the $150 million retractable roof at the stadium.

Rafa Nadal was worn out from his Rio Olympics exertions after emerging from an injury absence to win doubles gold, but the Spaniard perked back up with his trip to New York for the US Open.

Nadal, who said his injured wrist is improving daily, beat Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, in his firstround match on Monday.

“The most important thing is I’m here in New York and that makes me happy,” said Spain’s 14-times grand slam winner, who could not continue through the French Open and also missed Wimbledon and the Toronto event due to his wrist injury.

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Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

As the tennis world gears up for the Miami Open (March 21-April 3), often considered the “Fifth Grand Slam,” on par with such tennis events as Wimbledon and the US Open, Israel is preparing to welcome local and international talent to the similarly timed Israel Open.

The Israel Open, a $125,000 ATP men’s Challenger tennis tournament, attracts some big names to the Ra’anana Tennis Center March 27 to April 4.

Shlomo Glickstein, President of the Israel Tennis Association and former 22nd ranked player in the world, is proud and excited.

“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.”

Glickstein is also practical. “Tournaments like ours offer young tennis players the chance to earn ATP points.”

The Israel Open is part of the ATP Challenger Tour, a series of international professional men’s tennis tournaments.

Players who earn sufficient ranking points become eligible for qualifying or main draw entry at such ATP World Tour tournaments as the recent BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells or the Miami Open. Future events, like the three $10,000 tournaments recently held in Israel, are the third tier of international tennis competition.

The Israel Open attracts such well-known Israeli players as Dudi Sela, who climbed this week from No. 88 to 84 in the rankings, and Amir Weintraub (197). They are joined in the main singles draw of 32 by top 100 players Mikhail Youzhny (76th, Russia), Evgeny Donskoy (81st, Russia), and Ricardis Berankis (85th, Lithuania). Lukas Lacko (98th, Slovakia), who lost in a three-set final last year to Nikoloz Basilashvili, returns to Israel to play in this year’s Israel Open.

Other top players include Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia, currently ranked 401. Tipsarevic received a wild card and is making his tennis comeback following foot surgery and a 17 month absence from tennis.

Israeli Yoni Erlich will enter the Israel open doubles tournament.

Erlich had a distinguished doubles career playing with Andy Ram, and continues competing in international tournaments, many with partner Colin Fleming of Great Britain.

Sixteen teams will also compete in doubles.

Youzhny is no stranger to Israel.

“I have been to Israel several times with my family for vacations. I love Israel and look forward to coming to Israel again.”

Berankis is looking forward to making his first trip to Israel.

“I have many friends in Israel and heard so many good things about Israel. I’m really excited to come and play this big Challenger tournament.”

Israel has become an increasingly popular destination for professional tennis tournaments.

In early February, Israel hosted 14 countries in the Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I women’s tennis event. Top players, including Heather Watson (55th, Great Britain), Tsvetana Prionkova (59th, Bulgaria) and Jelena Ostapenko (84th, Latvia), competed at the Municipal Tennis Club in Eilat. The Israel team, anchored by Julia Glushko and Shahar Peer, finished in the top 4 of the event.

And Israel hosted three Futures tennis events in January and February.

Israeli Davis Cup team member, Edan Leshem and 16-year-old future star, Yshai Oliel, competed in some of the $10,000 Future the Kfar Maccabiah Tennis Center.

Glickstein notes that , “We have some promising young players including Ben Patael, Tal Goldengorn, Yshai Oliel – they are eager to play and get results.”

Israel recently lost to Hungary in the Davis Cup.

The Israel Open was held in Ramat Hasharon from 2008-2010, was not held from 2011-2014, and was also played in Ra’anana last year.

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

The story of Israel’s first Jewish-Arab tennis team at the Special Olympics

Four special Israeli athletes are true champions of tennis and coexistence. Two Israeli Jews and two Israeli Arabs represented Israel at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. This is the first time Israeli Arabs have been chosen to represent the country in the Olympics.

The four players, who competed in both singles and doubles tennis matches, joined 7,500 Special Olympics athletes from 185 countries, from all ability levels, in 21 Olympic-type sports. Since 1968, Special Olympics has offered more than 3.4 million children and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to compete in sports events.

The story of the Israeli delegation and their road to Athens is inspiring and heartwarming. It shows how people with so-called disabilities often have amazing abilities.

Additionally, people with long histories of not getting along can come together around a common goal.

Elad Gevandschnaider, a 22 year old Israeli Jew from Be’er Sheva, is a volunteer with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and trains at the Israel Tennis Center (ITC) in Beersheva. He won a silver medal at the European Championships in Poland a few months ago. He also has down syndrome. Athletes with intellectual disabilities receive free equipment and coaching at each of the 14 Israel Tennis Centers (ITC) throughout Israel. Gevandschnaider reports proudly, I will do everything to win. I want to be a champion.

Tamir Segal, a 34 year old Israeli Jew from the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, lives in Kiryat Shemona and practices daily at the ITC center there. He is the most experienced player on the team; he won the gold medal at the 2006 European Championships in Berlin and the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in 2007 in Shanghai.

Muhammad Kunbar, a 20 year old Israeli Arab from East Jerusalem and Jafar Tawil, a 20 year old Israeli Arab from Beit Safafa, owe much of their success to the dedication of a very special teacher. Mahmoud Qaraeen, a physical education teacher at the El Salam special education school in Beit Safafa, noticed that Kunbar and Tawil had excellent athletic skills. He encouraged them to train twice a week at the Israel Tennis Center in Jerusalem. They worked with many coaches and they competed in tournaments. They eventually began training at the Wingate Institute, Israel’s national center for physical education and sport.

Kunbar, Tawil, Gevandschnaide and Segal began playing together at the Wingate Institute’s training camp. Some may wonder how two Hebrew speakers and two Arabic speakers, all with special needs, would be able to communicate? “Communication has been one of the main challenges for these athletes, as their mental disabilities are at different levels, said Shaya Azar, director of the ITC in Ashkelon and coordinator of the Special Olympics tennis program. Tawil speaks Arabic, but he cannot read or write in Arabic and he does not speak Hebrew. Kunbar, who communicates on a higher level, often functions as a translator between Tawil and the coaches. Despite some communication difficulties and their cognitive challenges, the four athletes have a very special relationship. Segal notes, I’m good friends with Muhammad and Jafar and love them and love joking with them. Similarly, Tawil adds, I have a great relationship with Elad and Tamir. I love playing tennis and I hope to be a good player and to be among the world’s best. The men simply enjoy playing tennis.

In May, 44 players competed to represent Israel at the World Special Olympics event. The special foursome was chosen to represent Israel in Athens. “They are a great bunch of young men that enjoy every second they can spend on the court. They appreciate the (Israel Tennis) Center and they appreciate the coaches and the efforts of their school,” said Ilan Maman, the director of ITC-Jerusalem.

The Israel Tennis Centers have always prided themselves on their inclusion of athletes, regardless of religion, mother tongue or ability. They have a range of programs for people with developmental challenges such as autism, hearing impairments, ADHD and for children in wheelchairs. In addition, there is a link on the ITC website for, Arab Jewish Coexistence, noting that, We believe sport is a powerful tool for promoting tolerance, developing good, productive relationships and ultimately peaceful coexistence. According to Yoni Yair, Israeli Development Associate for Israel Children’s Centers (the American organization that supports ITC), Our coexistence programs teach kids how to respect one another, how to appreciate different beliefs and cultures, how to listen and how to just have fun on the court. We need to understand that we are human beings who can live together in a peaceful way. By coming together on the tennis court, I feel it’s a beautiful vehicle to achieve our dream of making a huge impact on the future of the kids. Step-by-step, things will change.

Many take great pride in the accomplishments of the Special Olympic tennis players and their medals at the Athens games. At press time, the Israeli doubles team of Elad and Muhammad and the other doubles team of Tamir and Jafar, each won bronze medals! They were also likely to be medal winners in singles.

However, the real victory for Israel’s tennis players is on the court of coexistence. As Azar wisely states, This shows that everyone is equal and sends a message of coexistence. It is important that both sides understand that there is room for cooperation, especially when such athletes are involved. You can build something with them and I’m sure that they are our best ambassadors. Indeed, these special athletes have a lot to teach Israel and the world.

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