The almost endless talk about promoting peace and co-existence between Israelis
and Arabs through sports is all very nice and good.
However, it is the
actions of top athletes such as Younes El Aynaoui that really make a
As far as El Aynaoui is concerned, he is just doing a close
friend a favor while having a good time.
But by coming to Israel for a
week to train with young local players and give Israel Tennis Centers
Professional Director Harel Levy some outside advice, El Aynaoui is sending a
perfect message of how sports can render meaningless differences of both borders
The 41-year-old Moroccan reached a career-best tennis
ranking of No. 14 in the world in March 2003, winning five ATP titles in an
injury plagued career.
He became the oldest player since Jimmy Connors to
win an ATP Tour match when he made a comeback to play in the Qatar Open three
years ago and is perhaps best remembered for his 21- 19 fifth-set defeat to Andy
Roddick in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2003, at the time setting
the record for the longest fifth set in Grand Slam history (since surpassed by
the Wimbledon 2010 marathon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.) The Rabat
native currently lives in France, but remains one of the most popular people in
Morocco, receiving a gold medal – the nation’s highest sporting honor – from
King Mohammed VI, with the center court of the Royal Tennis Club in Marrakech
also being named after El Aynaoui.
Since being officially named as the
professional director of the Israel Tennis Centers in December, Levy hasn’t left
a stone unturned in his quest to maximize the local infrastructure, which
currently totals 14 centers across the country and over 21,000 active
Levy and El Aynaoui became friends on tour long ago, with
the Moroccan sharing a special relationship with many Israeli players, including
Eyal Ran, Noam Okun, Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich.
Levy asked El Aynaoui if
he would be interested in coming to Israel to play with the country’s
up-andcoming players and give the coaches some tips, while also advising his
friend on what else could be done to improve the future of the local
El Aynaoui happily accepted the invitation and he has been very
impressed with what he’s seen.
“I knew the facilities because I came here
in 2003 for one month to practice with [Moroccan Davis Cup teammate] Hicham
Arazi before the Australian Open, but I’m still really impressed,” El Aynaoui
told me earlier this week.
“They have a psychologist, good coaches and
the best conditions for juniors and the next generations.”
relative dearth in young Israeli talent of the highest level, El Aynaoui
believes it won’t be long before local tennis has worthy successors to Dudi Sela
and Shahar Pe’er.
“I’ve seen it with my eyes. I’ve been playing with all
the young players and there’s a really good level between the ages of 12 and
18,” he said.
“It’s pure fun for me to be here and try and give them a
hand to help raise some champions here.”
El Aynaoui currently runs a
social project in Morocco, while also acting as an advisor to the Minister of
Sports in his homeland.
El Aynaoui is hoping for a greater cooperation
between Israeli and Moroccan tennis and sees no reason why sports can’t be used
as a platform for better relations between Israelis and Arabs.
“I grew up
in the sports world so we are very far away from all the outside problems,” he
said. “These are not my pretensions. However, I hope that people will understand
that we all get along in the sports family and that they shouldn’t
El Aynaoui is happy he accepted Levy’s invite and is hoping
to help him make “something good even better”.
Although he believes
expectations in Israel are slightly too high.
“The tennis world is very
small,” he explained.
“There is a place for very few players. You have
nations like England with a Grand Slam tournament and also thousands of people
playing tennis and they are struggling and only have Andy Murray.
are a lot of countries that have this problem.”
With Pe’er and Sela
floundering and Ram and Erlich entering the twilight of their career, it is easy
to feel discouraged regarding the state of the local game.
Aynaoui has little doubt that Israeli tennis is moving in the right
“Hard work always pays and that is what they are doing here,”
he said. “They don’t miss any details here so I’m sure the results will
“I think Israeli tennis has a bright future. I’ve seen some kids
who have something and if they have the opportunity and resources, I think in
the future we will see good players from Israel.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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