US Open

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Jonathan Erlich, Israel’s 44-years-old Davis Cup captain, is the oldest player in the US open that is full of up-and-coming youngsters.

In a US Open filled with young, up-and-coming surprise superstars, let’s not forget about the older men and women in the tournament – including Israel’s Jonathan Erlich.

Several stars of this year’s US Open were not even born 20 years ago when the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001.

The two women’s finalists – Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, 19, and Britain’s Emma Raducanu, 18 – were both teenagers. Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who retired in the men’s quarterfinals with a leg injury, is 18.

The media couldn’t stop asking these young players about being so young.  When asked if they had less pressure because they were up-and-comers, Radacanu replied: “I think honestly being young, there is an element of you do play completely free. But I’m sure that when I’m older or have more experience, yeah, the same will happen to me. I think the tables will turn. Some younger players will come through.”

Fernandez, who had four consecutive upsets of seeded players – all in a three-setters – before losing to Radacanu in the finals, had always imagined playing Grand Slams.

“When I was younger, since I used Justine Henin as a great example, I would imagine myself playing against her. I would also imagine myself playing against Serena and Venus [Williams], and the past few years playing against Osaka in a big tournament.  When I was younger, I’ve always seen myself being in a big stadium in front of so many people and just having fun on the court.”

ANDY RAM (right) and Jonathan Erlich of Israel react as they win a point during their Davis Cup’s doubles playoff tennis match in Tel Aviv in 2010. (credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)

The tennis world is likely to hear from Fernandez, Radacanu, Alcaraz and other young players for quite some time.

The youngest player in the entire US Open this year was Robin Montgomery, who just turned 17.  She competed in the women’s doubles, where she made it to the second round, and won the girls’ US Open tournament.  Montgomery is six months younger than phenom Coco Gauff, who was born in September 2004.  Gauff lost her second-round singles match but played in Sunday’s women’s doubles finals with fellow teen, 19-year-old Catherine McNally.

The duo, affectionately known as “McCoco,” took on the veteran team of Samantha Stosur, 37, and Shuai Zhang, 32, who won the 2019 Australian Open doubles crown.

Stosur, who competed in her first Grand Slam events in 2002, represents the older group of players also experiencing success at this year’s US Open.  American Rajeev Ram, 37 and partner Joe Salisbury, 29, will share the $660,000 prize for winning the men’s doubles championship.

Mandy Minella of Luxembourg, 35, lost in her first-round women’s’ doubles and first-round singles qualifiers matches. Vera Zvonareva, 37, lost in her first-round women’s’ singles match to No. 1 seed Ash Barty.

Qualifier Ivo Karlovic, 42, the second oldest player in this year’s US Open, battled through three qualifying rounds to gain a spot in the men’s singles draw. He lost to No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev in the first round.

And the oldest player in the US Open was none other than the good-natured Israeli, Jonathan Erlich, clocking a ripe 44 years of age.

Erlich, Israel’s Davis Cup captain, has had a long and distinguished tennis career, mostly with now-retired Andy Ram. Erlich has been teaming up for doubles in some recent tournaments with 24-year-old South African Lloyd Harris.

Erlich and Harris defeated Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald in the first round, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 before losing in the second round 7-6, 6-4 to John Peers of Australia and Filip Polasek of Poland. The youthful Harris went on to the singles quarterfinals where he lost to No. 4 Alexander Zverev.

Erlich playfully notes that he is old by tennis standards, but that playing with a player like Harris keeps him young.

“Forty-four is pretty old, but I try staying in there and playing with the young guys,” said Erlich. “I am playing with a partner who is on the rise and playing great tennis. Playing with Harris actually gives me a lot of energy and motivation to keep going.”Erlich enjoys Harris on and off the court.

“I am great friends with Lloyd and we enjoy playing together.”

Playing with Harris after so many years with fellow countryman Ram represents a second chance for Erlich.

“I think it gives me a second wind and overall, I am feeling very well.  As long as my body holds on, it is good.”

Ehrlich and various doubles partners enjoyed a successful season in 2021, which included reaching the quarterfinals in Los Cabos, the semifinals in Newport, the round-of-64 at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals in Mallorca.

Erlich came to the US Open after five weeks off.

“I was a little rusty in the beginning of the first-round match.  It took me a while to get into it, but I finished strong.”Erlich looks back fondly on his 15 years spent with Ram, many of them ranked in the top 10. The pair won the 2008 Australian Open doubles title together.

“It was a different era.  Now, [my] priorities are different – family, kids…”  He feels he is in a “happy place” and “grateful to be playing Grand Slams at 44.”

He has not lost touch with his old friend, Ram, who now owns an ice cream store in Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv and is reportedly opening a second store soon in Kiryat Ono.

“I was his first client.  I had black vanilla, which is amazing, and I love going for pistachio.  Erlich playfully added: “This bastard didn’t even give me a discount!”

Perhaps Ram will treat Erlich to a free scoop after he wins his next Grand Slam title.

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Original Article Published On The JNS

When Diego Schwartzman outlasted Kevin Anderson in Wednesday night’s rain-drenched match—requiring relocation from Louis Armstrong to Arthur Ashe Stadium mid-game—he became the identified Jewish player who is guaranteed to go deepest in this year’s US Open singles draw. The prestigious Grand Slam tennis event is taking place from Aug. 24 to Sept. 12 in New York.

The proudly Jewish Argentinian started his match against the 2017 US Open runner-up at 7:30 p.m. at Louis Armstrong—a stadium with a retractable roof, but with ventilation openings that allowed rain on to the courts—but then was put on hold at 5-5 in the first set. The court was dried and play resumed, even though large puddles continued to form. The match was relocated to Ashe with the 11th-seeded Schwartzman completed his 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-4 win at 1:30 a.m.

Two days earlier, on the sunny first day of the tournament, Schwartzman (#14 in the world) defeated hard-hitting Ričardas Berankis in straight sets 75-63-63. Following the match, Schwarzman put on a mask and patiently signed tennis balls, iPhone cases and even baseballs for dozens of fans—several wearing yarmulkes and many unfurling Argentine flags and chanting “Diego” repeatedly.

Schwartzman, known as “El Peque” for his short stature, is proud of his Jewish heritage. He grew up playing tennis at Club Náutico Hacoaj, the Jewish club in Buenos Aires, and he has spoken about his Polish maternal great-grandfather who crammed with others into a cattle car en route to a concentration camp during the World War II. The coupling broke apart, leaving his car behind at a station as others went to their deaths. He jumped off the train and fled, eventually traveling by ship with his family to Argentina.

Schwartzman reached the US Open quarterfinals in 2017 and 2019. He is now on to the third round, where he will face Alex Molčan of Slovakia.

Denis Shapovalov, #10 in the world and the tournament’s #7 seed, doesn’t openly identify as Jewish, though he was born in Tel Aviv to a Ukrainian Jewish mother and a Russian Orthodox Christian father. The 22-year-old Canadian easily defeated Roberta Carballés Baena 7-6 (9-7), 6-3, 6-0 in a little more than two hours in their second-round match on Thursday night.

Elina Svitolina, May 9, 2019. Credit: si.robi via Wikimedia Commons.

There were four Jewish women in the main draw: Jamie Loeb (#194), from Ossining, N.Y.; Madison Brengle (#77); Camila Giorgi; and unconfirmed Jewish player Elina Svitolina. Loeb, who won three matches in the qualifying tournament to gain a spot in the main draw, lost her first-round match. Brengle, a 31-year-old from Dover, Del., lost her first-round singles and doubles matches. This was her ninth appearance in the US Open.

Camila Giorgi (#36) of Italy lost her first-round match to #12 seed Simona Halep (# 13) of Romania 6-4, 7-6 (3). Giorgi, who has had seven top 20 wins this season and won the National Bank Open this summer, recently confirmed to a reporter that she is proudly Jewish, that her parents are Argentines who immigrated to Italy, and that Anne Frank is her favorite book. “The book moved me because I am Jewish, but also because she was such a good person who saw the good in people,” she said.

World #5 Elina Svitolina has unconfirmed Jewish family history. She has won her first two matches in straight sets and will face Russian Daria Kasatkina in the third round.

Doubling down on Israeli players

Others Jewish players in the main draw include 44-year-old doubles specialist Jonathan Erlich. He and South African Lloyd Harris faced Austrians Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald on Friday in their first-round match. They advanced to the second round after winning 62, 67 (73), 62  in an hour and 46 minutes. Israeli Dudi Sela, currently #322, was scheduled to compete in the qualifying tournament but reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 before it began.

Jonathan Ehrlich, May 28, 2016, Credit: si.robi via Wikimedia Commons.

Fans keeping score of the numbers—or rather, the percent—of Jews in the men’s and women’s singles draws and in the men’s doubles draw may be pleasantly surprised.

According to most estimates, Jews make up .2 percent of the world’s population. To put it more specifically, there are 14.7 Jews in a world populated by 7.89 billion people. The percentage of Jews in men’s and women’s singles draws (if you consider Shapovalov as well as Svitolina) and men’s doubles draw are way ahead of percentages of Jews in the world.

Jewish players make up two of 128 or 1.56 percent of the men’s draw, 3.12 percent of the women’s draw (four of out of 128) and 1.56 percent of the men’s doubles draw (one team member out of 64 teams).

And while Israel’s one representative in the tournament seems low, especially when compared to such countries as Australia (26 players) and Argentina (20), they only lag slightly behind Finland (3) and Ecuador (2). They are right at home with North African and Mideast neighbors Tunisia (1) and Egypt (1).

Fans of Israel tennis remember not so many years ago when they could regularly see Israelis Shahar Peer, Julia Glushko, David (“Dudi”) Sela and Andy Ram in action at the US Open.

While few such pros or juniors remain in action this year, Hans Felius, the director of Tennis and Social Impact Programs at the ITEC (Israel Tennis Educational Centers), and the professional staff of Israel’s David Squad are systematically training Israeli children with great potential to one day play in the US Open and other major junior and adult tournaments around the world. When their efforts come to fruition, it will surely help the Jewish and Israeli tournament numbers and percentages.

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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.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

After early US Open ouster, 24-year-old outspoken New Yorker gives feedback on tournament organizers and players’ mental health in these crazy times

Being successful as a professional tennis player requires natural ability, dedication and hard work. Making it during a global pandemic while also exposing injustices in “the system” and bringing attention to the mental health issues of fellow players requires you to be Noah Rubin.

Rubin, only 24 years old but wise beyond his years, is no stranger to the US Open and to advocacy.

A proud Jew, Rubin – No. 228 in the world in singles and No. 703 in doubles – was eliminated with partner Ernesto Escobedo in the first round of the men’s doubles tournament at the recently completed, spectator-less US Open, held in New York City. Their match vs Israel-born Denis Shapovalov and Rohan Bopanna was suspended due to rain and continued the next day, when Rubin and Escobedo lost 6-2, 6-4.

This was Long Island-native Rubin’s seventh trip to the US Open since competing in his first qualifiers in 2013. Rubin spent the days leading up to his first-round defeat with all other players and tournament personnel at the Garden City Hotel. He said ironically, “I live nine minutes away. It was a strange situation.”

Rubin spoke with The Jerusalem Post about his experience in the US Open “bubble,” gave suggestions for improving pro tennis, and reflected on his popular “Behind The Racquet” project.

The United States Tennis Association took great pains to assure the Grand Slam tournament would be played this year. USTA CEO Mike Dowse and US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster shared details of the safety plan at several press briefings.

“We really established some guiding principles at the beginning. The first one was could we do it in a healthy and safe way for everyone. That included the players, the staff, even the local community here in New York. The second guiding principle was is this good for the sport of tennis, will it reignite our industry in the broader tennis ecosystem. The third question is frankly did it make financial sense, that included for the players and for the USTA, again the broader tennis ecosystem. As we went through this journey starting in mid-March, we couldn’t say yes at all times against those three guiding principles. But ultimately on June 16 we said ‘yes’ with this formula we put together.”

Rubin and other players had mixed reviews of the plan and of the tennis bubble.

“At first, there were very few problems,” noted Rubin. “It was great. I gave them so much credit before the tournament – for how much work they put in.”

Rubin playfully noted that the players-only set up meant that players could wander the grounds freely.

“I didn’t see my third-grade teacher asking for tickets!

“It was great, [but] then there were issues that they handled poorly.”

Rubin spoke of the boredom.

“They had basketball [in the hotel] – it was fun shooting hoops – and they had mini golf, but there is only so much 9-hole mini golf you can play!”

Rubin reported spending some days “lying down in the middle of the park…not their fault.”

And he spoke of playing in front of empty stands.

“The thrill is with the fans, but I am used to not having people at my matches.”

Rubin began to witness problems after the first coronavirus case were detected.

“It didn’t seem they were ready.”

Rubin felt communication was poor and that rules were constantly changing.

“They didn’t really tell us everything. It seemed like they were hiding something. And there was a lack of consistency.”

Rubin was referring to a situation where French player Benoit Paire tested positive for the coronavirus on the Sunday before the US Open, though he was not showing symptoms. Paire, the No. 17 seed, was set to play Kamil Majchrzak of Poland in the first round and was forced to withdraw from the tournament.

“There was a lack of consistency. Top players were put on a pedestal.”

Rubin described it as “a fake bubble in a lot of ways,” with hotel staff going home, therefore coming in and out of the bubble. He also reports sharing the hotel with other guests not connected to the tournament.

“They got to the 10-yard line and dropped the ball a little bit. They did the hard parts really well. It was a good effort.”

Rubin is no stranger to speaking out on issues which he says as affecting professional tennis. He has spoken out on income inequality the sport, and started the “Behind the Racquet” website and podcast, where he allows professional tennis players to share personal stories of mental health issues and other struggles.

As Rubin wrote on the website: “From the beginning of my life there was nothing I loved more than chasing around that yellow ball.

Wherever it went, I followed. I could not always articulate the impact I wanted to make but I had this innate feeling that I needed to leave my mark on this sport. As I progressed through the levels, meeting and experiencing all there is to, I started understanding that there is a true disconnect between how spectators interpreted this field and what actually is the reality.

“The perceived glamorous, travesty-free lifestyle was far from what is actually taking place. The combination of this blinded misconception along with the antiquated mentalities of some at the top, running our sport, made me feel a responsibility to implore change.

“I have grand dreams to drastically evolve the sport we all love in order to prevent this continuous decline of fans. This is where ‘Behind The Racquet’ (BTR) plays a major role. I realized that this disconnect has arisen partially due to the lack of connection between potential fans and players. I started BTR to give players the platform to share their stories on their own terms, while also giving fans an opportunity to relate to a player on a deeper level.

“In doing so, I am also helping to fight the stigma of talking about mental health, especially in the world of professional sport. I truly dream that these stories, told by honest and bold people, inspire you to see deeper into who they truly are. Everyone has a story and it’s time to share yours.”

Despite the tennis tour being on hiatus until recently due to COVID-19, Rubin reported that “life is the most hectic it has ever been.”

While he hopes to play in the upcoming French Open in two weeks, he is devoting a great deal of time to “Behind the Racquet.”
“I have worked six years in six months,” exclaimed Rubin, who has built a team, collected 50 stories, and has a book and possible documentary on the horizon.

His mother, Melanie Siegel Rubin, is proud of all of Noah’s accomplishments.

“Noah has trained all his life to accomplish what he has on the court as a junior and professional tennis player. His dedication and determination are beyond admirable. In recent years, Noah’s off-court endeavors, through ‘Behind The Racquet,’ have taken my admiration of him to an even higher level. Noah giving other players an outlet to express themselves, resources to help themselves and a platform to reach so many, has surpassed what I could have dreamed for him. His work with NAMI [National Alliance on Mental Illness], North Shore Animal League and as a voice for change for his fellow players are just some of his undertakings that should be commended. I couldn’t be more proud of my boy.”

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