tennis

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

As US Open gets under way, lack of blue-and-white competitors is glaring * ITEC and David Squad aim to change that

When fans return to this year’s US Open, they will be painfully aware of an absence of Israeli players.

There will be no Israelis in the men’s or women’s singles draw of this year’s US Open, to be played August 30-September 12 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Jonathan Erlich, 44, will play doubles with Lloyd Harris of South Africa.  Dudi Sela, 36, ranked 319, reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 prior to last week’s scheduled match in the qualifying tournament versus Belgian Ruben Bemelmans.

If Hans Felius has his way, the lack of Israelis in major tennis tournaments will change in the future. Felius, the director of tennis at ITEC (Israel Tennis Educational Centers) – formerly known as Israel Tennis Centers – has a carefully thought-out plan for systematically training Israeli children with great potential so they will one day play in major junior and adult tournaments around the world.

Felius projects that his efforts will bear fruit in 2029. This is no consolation for lovers of Israel tennis with tickets to the 2021 US Open.

Fans of Israel tennis traditionally flock to the US Open each August with hopes of seeing Israeli pros and even juniors in action. Many have stories and memories of late nights spent watching Sela or Shahar Pe’er battle it out on a side court, or Julia Glushko playing in the noon heat, seeking a spot in the main draw. They remember summers watching aspiring juniors Yshai Oliel, Lera Patiuk, Or Ram Harel or Bar Botzer – with great hopes that they’d become the next Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.

Fans of a certain age remember Gilad Bloom, now 54, reach the rank of No. 61 in singles. Or Shlomo Glickstein, who reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 22 in 1982, and his career-high doubles ranking of 28 in 1986. His impressive career includes reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open once, the third round of both Wimbledon and the French Open once, and the second round of the US Open four times.
Felius is not making excuses for the absence of Israelis at most Grand Slams in recent years. He is simply working to get Israelis back in the draw of major junior and professional tournaments. And he may just have what it takes.

Felius, a native of the Netherlands, was the professional director of the Dutch Tennis Association. He came to Israel in 1988 and was recruited to work with such players as Bloom, Amos Mansdorf and Anna Smashnova. After a stint in Israel from 1989-1997, Felius trained and coached players in Austria and Holland.

“My main expertise is in systematically building players to the professional ranks,” said Felius. He emphasized that “physical education is the basis.”

The father of six is a Jew by choice who made aliyah in 2012. He took a break from tennis to work in hi-tech then was offered his current position, the Director of Tennis and Social Impact Programs at the ITEC.
“I had one more chance to do it right—to get players to the top 100. I knew it would take patience.”

Felius knew it would require a carefully crafted, step-by-step plan.
“It takes 10 years, and we need to stick to each point.”
He firmly believes that getting Israeli players to the top levels is not a matter of “taking the two best players at age 16 and giving them the best coach.”

He makes the case that it is important to identify children with the right motor skills and other skill sets at age seven.
The ITEC is in a unique position to identify and work with young players throughout the country. The ITEC offers what he describes as “three complementary, yet separate spheres that empower one another and create synergy.” They include junior development (5,500 children), social impact programming (for 2,000 children at risk and also includes a coexistence and an obesity prevention program) and talent development.

The talent development program provides 500 gifted players the opportunity to eventually play professional tennis, or to receive scholarships to play at leading universities and colleges abroad. Players train in seven junior academies throughout Israel (Akko, Yokneam, Haifa, Ramat HaSharon, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon). They play two hours a day, five days a week and also participate in fitness classes, mental training and tournaments at the centers. Some go on to play tournaments in Israel and abroad.

Select players from these academies who meet certain ranking and tournament point benchmarks will proceed to the International ITEC Tennis Academy, where the program consists of six days of tennis and fitness, mental training, medical/physiotherapist support and nutrition.

Players on the Elite Team, top-100 track currently include males Ron Ellouck (ranked No. 148), Vova Bazilevsky, Amit Valas, Ofek Shimanov (715), and female players Mika Dagan Fruchtman (226), Karin Altori (541), Mika Buchnik (775) and Vasilina Andronov. Some from this cohort will go on to play men’s and women’s future tournaments, then top level ATP and WTA professional tournaments.

While Felius’ program is predicted to take 10 years before an Israeli is at the top of the tennis world, the David Squad is also hard at work getting young Israelis to the big tournaments – and they predict it will take even less time.

DAVID SQUAD members (from left) Gabriel Rujinsky (coach), Gur Trakhtenberg, Tim Vaisman, Ilan London Menache, Simon Levy, Andy Zingman, Halel Ashoosh pose on the court. (credit: LIDOR GOLDBERG)

The David Squad was started in 2007 by British businessman David Coffer, who at the time was struck by what he saw as a lack of clay tennis court training facilities in Israel. He selected eight of the best juniors and funded a two-week intensive training camp on red clay courts in Spain. The single focus of the David Squad elite training program is to produce Israeli tennis players who win international competitions.

Andy Zingman, Head of Operations of the David Squad and head coach, proudly reports: “We are currently coaching and managing the top-three 15-year-old boys, the best two 14-year-old boys and the top 12-year-old girl. All of them represent Israel at European Championships and are/were highly ranked in Europe U14.”

Zingman, who made Aliyah from Argentina 15 years ago, was ranked No. 18 in the world for U18, was the Argentine singles and doubles national U18 Champion, competed in all four Grand Slams, and has extensive experience coaching junior and professional players. He boldly predicts that all six players in the David Squad elite training program will make it to the US Open within two to four years.

“We just need time for them to grow, get stronger, and absorb the hard work.”
He bases his prediction on accomplishments of the David Squad players so far.
“In the past 15 years the David Squad has grown to become one of the most highly-respected organizations in Junior tennis, having produced international champions, including Junior Grand Slam, Orange Bowl, $10k, $15K and $25K tournaments winners.”

The six players the David Squad is currently working with include:

• Gur Trachtenberg (15 years old, ranked No. 592): Israeli National Champion U12 & U14. Last year he won three Tennis Europe tournaments in a row, won the Israeli Junior National Tournament (U14) and Represented Israel at European Championships.

• Halel Ashoosh (15 years old; ranked No. 1,709): Winner of national tournaments U12 & U14. Last year was the finalist of three U14 Tennis Europe tournaments in a row (lost to Gur). Represented Israel at European Championships U12 & U14.

• Eyal Shumilov (14 years old; ranked No. 1,611): Winner of multiple singles and doubles Tennis Europe tournaments and National tournaments in Israel in 2020. This year he won a doubles ITF tournament with Gur Trachtenberg in Georgia. Represented Israel at European Championships U12 & U14.

• Tim Vaisman (14 years old): This year achieved Best ranking of No. 4 in Europe U14, Represented Israel at European Championships U12 & U14. He was singles and doubles Champion in several TE tournaments.

• Ilan London Menache (14 years old): A new player on the squad who immigrated with his family from Brazil three years ago. Ilan won national tournaments and represented Israel at the U14 European Championships this summer.

• Evelin Bortsova (12 years old): The Israeli National Champion U10, and potentially U12 next month. She won many singles matches and a doubles tournament at U12 Tennis Europe events this year. Evelyn owns a fantastic eye-ball coordination, stroke technique and a winning mentality.
In addition to these players, the David Squad continues to develop promising younger players as part of the David Squad pipeline.

“Throughout the past 15 years we have continued to produce the very best Israeli players, through our professional approach and dedication to the highest standards to produce elite level players, irrespective of lack of support from the wider system,” noted Coffer. “We continue to do so and are extremely excited about our current cohort, which comprises an exceptional group of the region’s top players aged 12 to 15. We are certain each of them will be playing juniors Grand Slam in the short term and very confident about their progression to professional status thereafter.”
While spectators at this year’s US Open will not get to see any Israel other than Erlich in action, they are invited to keep a close eye on the boys and girls working hard at ITEC and through David Squad to become Israel’s next tennis stars. Perhaps one day, one of these young Israelis will be accepting the champions trophy on center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Read more

Original Post Published On The Jerusalem Post

After two straight US Open quarterfinals, Jewish-Argentine knocked out early • Djokovic cruises • Gauff ousted

Cameron Norrie of Great Britain battled back from two sets down and two match points to stun the US Open’s Argentine No. 9 seed, Diego Schwartzman 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 in a four-hour first-round match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on Monday night.
Schwartzman, the No. 13 in the world, experienced cramps on several occasions and took a fall up 3-2 in the fifth set that required treatment on his left hand by the trainer. The gregarious, proudly Jewish 28-year-old is a three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist. He reached the US Open quarterfinals in both 2017 and 2019, but couldn’t pull out the match against Norrie.

“I had a very bad day,” said Schwartzman after the match. “I was far from playing at the level that I showed many times here at the US Open. I took advantage of the early chances, but I was giving a lot physically and I started to get tired and cramped up a couple of times. In a normal year, when I am playing a lot, I do well, but it is much harder going a long time without competing. It was a very bad tournament for me and all I can do is try to improve for what is coming.”No. 76 Norrie spoke to the British media after the match.“I just had a phenomenal attitude and stayed patient with myself,” said Norrie. “I think my attitude won it for me today and my legs got me through it.”  Norrie had eleven aces to one for Schwarzman. The match broke a US Open record with 58 break points.Norrie advances to play Argentinian Federico Coria in the second round.  Players in the main draw earn $61,000 for appearing in the first round.  Male and female tournament winners earn $3 million.  Norrie has yet to win any titles.  He is 4-10 in Grand Slam matches and has reached the second round four times.

Schwartzman made news during last week’s ATP 2020 Western & Southern Open Masters 1000, which was also played on the grounds of the US Open.  He was upset when Argentine tennis players Guido Pella and Hugo Dellien were quarantined after their fitness trainer tested positive for COVID-19.

“They lied to our faces,” Schwarzman said angrily, “They said that there would be no retaliation for anyone who tested positive.”Relatedly, a number of competitors at the US Open expressed their frustration on Monday after they were moved into a so-called “bubble within a bubble” as they had been in contact with Frenchman Benoit Paire, who tested positive for coronavirus.

Tournament organizers quietly removed Paire from the draw on Sunday, with the Frenchman later confirming on social media that he had tested positive.French players Adrian Mannarino, Kristina Mladenovic and Edouard Roger-Vasselin were subsequently placed under an “enhanced protocol plan” for “players who might have been potentially exposed” to the virus, allowing them to continue competing in the tournament instead of withdrawing.

In other first-round action, Novak Djokovic needed less than two hours to continue his unbeaten season.The top-seeded Serbian routed Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 in 1 hour, 58 minutes.The win was Djokovic’s 24th in as many matches this year. He won the Australian Open and three tournaments this year, including the Western & Southern Open in New York last week.

Djokovic saved six of the seven break points he faced against Dzumhur while converting six of his 18 break opportunities.A heavy favorite for the title with Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Switzerland’s Roger Federer absent, Djokovic will next face Kyle Edmund. The British player got past Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik 2-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-0.In other matches, fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece demolished Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 in 98 minutes.

Maxime Cressy will get the next shot at Tsitsipas, as the American wild-card entrant produced his first victory in a Grand Slam event.Cressy, a 23-year-old UCLA product, beat Slovakia’s Jozef Kovalik 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.Fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev needed four sets to get past South Africa’s Kevin Anderson 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.Seventh-seeded David Goffin of Belgium eliminated the United States’ Reilly Opelka 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.Other seeded winners Monday included Israel-born No. 12 Denis Shapovalov of Canada, No. 19 Taylor Fritz of the United States, No. 20 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, No. 24 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, No. 26 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, No. 27 Borna Coric of Croatia and No. 32 Adrian Mannarino of France.

In an all-United States matchup, Steve Johnson outlasted 16th-seeded John Isner 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (3). Isner fell despite an ace edge of 52-22.On the women’s side, Coco Gauff failed to make it past the first round as 31st-seeded Anastasija Sevastova defeated the 16-year-old sensation 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

Gauff had a memorable run 12 months ago at age 15 when she recorded two wins at the US Open before losing to top-seeded Naomi Osaka in the third round.But the magic wasn’t there against the 30-year-old Sevastova, who was a US Open semifinalist in 2018 and reached the quarterfinals in both 2016 and 2017.Gauff committed 13 double faults and 41 unforced errors against 27 winners in the match at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“I could’ve played better today, but I’m just going to get back to work and get ready for the French Open,” Gauff said of the event that begins Sepember. 21.Also, top-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic routed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine 6-4, 6-0.Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka, two days after withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open final due to a hamstring injury, emerged with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over another Japanese player, Misaki Doi.

Sixth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova also was sharp with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu.American Alison Riske, seeded 13th, got past Germany’s Tatjana Maria 6-3, 6-2, No. 17 Angelique Kerber of Germany notched a 6-4, 6-4 win over Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic and No. 30 Kristina Mladenovic of France recorded a 7-5, 6-2 win over Hailey Baptiste.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Read more

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Fichman now hopes to compete for Canada at the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

A few curious fans watched the female tennis player with the Canada T-shirt warming up an hour prior to her doubles match on Court 9 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. She seems confident and clear in what she needs from Fritz, her strong male hitting partner. Another guy with a white sleeveless shirt, shorts and colorful shoes is holding a tennis racket and retrieving balls. Though no one knows who she is, the player is no stranger to the US Open.

Canadian-Israeli Sharon Fichman, 28, played in Flushing Meadows as a junior in 2006, where she reached the doubles finals with partner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  Fichman was ranked No. 5 in the junior circuit that year.  She played in the US Open qualifying tournament each year from 2009-2012, and she lost in the first round of the main draw in both 2013 and 2014. In 2014, she reached career-high rankings in singles (No. 77) and doubles (No. 48).  

Following a long period of absence from the tennis tour, Fichman was back in New York this year to compete in the US Open doubles tournament.  She and fellow Canadian Bianca Andreescu  (the eventual singles champion) lost in the first round to Americans Taylor Townsend and Whitney Osuigwe.

Fichman’s break from tennis and her dramatic return is a complex, moving love story which involves overcoming adversity and facing life’s challenges and opportunities with a partner.

Fichman spoke to The Jerusalem Post and explained that in March 2014 “there were a lot of things happening in my life… there was a big change in my coaching dynamic.”

Fichman described moving to Vancouver from Toronto to be with her coach, who relocated there for professional and personal reasons.  The relationship was unhealthy and unraveling.

“In hindsight, I probably should have changed the situation at the time, but unfortunately I didn’t. It got to the point where it led to overtraining, overplaying, poor scheduling, mental fatigue, injuries, surgeries.”

Fichman experienced multiple injuries and surgeries to her Achilles, ankle and knee.

“Looking back, I shouldn’t have been competing. It got to the point that I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I was in pain, mentally and physically. Every time I would come back, I would get injured again. I needed a break. I fell out of love [with tennis].”

Fichman decided to take a break from tennis in May 2016. She stayed in Vancouver, began building a life outside of tennis and entered into a serious relationship, which brought her back home to Toronto.

Once in Toronto, the relationship ended and Fichman was “focused on getting life together and finding a new passion outside of tennis.”

But ultimately she “fell back in love with tennis” and started taking coaching education courses, serving as a high performance coach and doing tennis commentary on television.

Fichman also fell back in love with a person.

“When I moved back to Toronto, Dylan [Moscovitch] got back in touch with me.

Fichman proceeded to describe the moving story of her relationship with Dylan Moscovitch, the accomplished 35-year-old retired pairs skater.

Moscovitch, who like Fichman is Jewish, competed with partner Kirsten Moore-Towers and was the 2013 Four Continents silver medalist, 2014 Olympic team event silver medalist, and 2011 Canadian national champion. He then competed with Liubov Ilyushechkina from 2014 to 2018 and together they won numerous prizes, including as the 2017 Four Continents bronze medalists, two-time bronze medalists on the Grand Prix series, and three-time Canadian national medalists (silver in 2015 and 2017, bronze in 2016).

Fichman’s relationship with Moscovitch started slowly.

“We met when I was 12, through his tennis-playing brother,’ she recounted. “We weren’t in each other’s lives… we sort of knew about each other and each other’s careers – we were both Jewish Canadian athletes.”

Fichman was born in Toronto to Jewish parents who moved from their native Romania to Israel before settling in Canada. She competed in the 17th Maccabiah Games in Israel at age 14 and won the gold medal in women’s singles. Moscovitch also had visited Israel on a Birthright program.

“We had each other on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Eventually he reached out, and asked me out a couple of times. Eventually I said yes. When we reconnected, the rest is history!”

They started dating in August 2017 and “hit the ground sprinting.”

Moscovitch’s life would soon change in unexpected ways.

In December 2017, he called Fichman just before she boarded a plane for a three-hour flight to Toronto. He was relaxing on a stretching mat after a gym workout.

“While we were on the phone together, a 200-pound mirrored door next to him unhinged and fell on him. He was knocked unconscious and suffered multiple facial lacerations, a cracked bone in his hand, multiple stitches in his right hand and was concussed for two months. What was horrible, is that I heard everything on the other end of the phone, not knowing whether or not he was dead or alive throughout the flight.”

Fichman described her flight as “the scariest three hours of my life.”

“Usually, Dylan closes his eyes while relaxing after his workouts. This time, since he was speaking on the phone, his eyes were open. Speaking with me saved him some serious head damage. If his eyes were closed, he wouldn’t have been able to react with his hand to help stop the majority of the impact.”

As a result of his injuries, Moscovitch retired from skating and was unable to participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

“He missed the opportunity to go to two Olympics, which was his goal – to go to two Olympics and medal.”

That missed opportunity is intimately connected to Fichman’s return to tennis.

“Dylan’s injury inspired me to come back because I wanted him to fulfill that dream. I decided after I heard [fellow Canadian tennis player] Gaby [Dabrowski]in a press conference mention something about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It inspired me to come back for Dylan.”

Fichman now hopes to compete for Canada at the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

“I had a bad break-up with tennis,” she noted. “I didn’t finish the sport in a way that left me feeling like I had a lot of love for it. This has given me an opportunity to play again and play on my terms and learn to love it.”

Fichman returned to tennis in doubles at the 2018 ITF event in Indian Harbour Beach and reached the quarterfinals with partner Jamie Loeb.

At this year’s US Open, when her practice session draws to a close, she sits in her chair next to hitting partner and the other guy who had been assisting on court. That man is Dylan Moscovitch.

Fichman opens up her tennis bag and takes out a hard case. She retrieves a shining diamond ring which she slips on to her finger. Fichman and Moscovitch got engaged in November 2018, and are planning their wedding in February 2021.

Moscovitch spends a great deal of time with Fichman on and off court, where he offers support and a great deal of insight and wisdom.

“Any athlete who competes later in life and takes a break has a certain perspective, which is a huge asset” said Moscovitch. “This lens helps her a lot on court, and to understand balance in life. I try to help with this philosophy.”

While the US Open may have ended early for Fichman, she and Moscovitch have Tokyo and married life to look forward to and their future is bright as the sun.

Read more

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.

Read more