Harel Levy may not have been the greatest Israeli tennis player of all time.

However, it is hard to think of a player who loved the game more than he did, which was perhaps best epitomized by the way he fought to extend his career even when it was painfully clear that he would never return to be the player he was before suffering a career-threatening hip injury in the summer of 2001.

Levy, who retired last February, will need every bit of that relentless fighting-spirit in his new job as the professional director of the Israel Tennis Centers.

With 14 centers across the country and over 21,000 active children, the ITC has long been the breeding ground for Israel’s top tennis players.

The current crop of Shahar Pe’er, Dudi Sela, Julia Glushko and Amir Weintraub are making their final preparations for 2013 at the Israel national championships in Ramat Hasharon this week, fine-tuning their game before dispersing to the four corners of the globe for the start of the new season.

However, the 34-year-old Levy, who was officially named to his new position on Monday, is focused on the much more distant future and is already busy implementing a long-term plan that he believes will help the local game prosper.

“My goal is to give back to the Israel Tennis Centers after all I was given for so many years and to contribute what I can to the young generation,” Levy told me earlier this week.

“I hope that it won’t be too long before my contribution will be noticeable. Clearly, it is wrong to judge things over the next couple of months because this is a process which will take time. I believe we are embarking on a new and good road. We have assembled a very good staff that can give Israeli tennis a strong push forward.”

Recently retired Noam Okun and Davis Cup coach Noam Behr are among those who will be working together with Levy, who always hoped to remain involved in the game because “tennis will always be in my soul.”

“I have a long-term plan because you can’t just take any 16-year-old player and transform him into a champion,” Levy explained. “You need to build a wide base of potential players as there will always be those who fall by the wayside. But at the end of the process you will hopefully have a select few who will become world class players. That is our target and our vision, but it will take time.”

Levy reached a career-best ranking of No. 30 in the world in June 2001, but his career took a fateful turn for the worse that same summer.

He suffered a right hip injury and lost 20 of his next 23 matches, eventually spending much of the remainder of his career on the Challenger circuit.

Nevertheless, he remained an integral part of Israel’s Davis Cup team until his retirement, registering an overall singles record of 20 wins and 16 losses for the blueand- white, helping the national team to the competition’s semifinals in 2009 with crucial victories.

Much has been made of the current state of the local game, with Pe’er, ranked No. 74 in the world, and Sela (109) having struggled for form in recent times, while Glushko (176) and Weintraub (194) continue to search for their long-awaited breakthrough.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of all is that there do not seem to be any players capable of even following in the footsteps of the likes of Glushko and Weintraub any time soon, with Tal Eros Israel’s third-highest ranked men’s player at No. 954 in the world and Keren Shlomo (471) the women’s No. 3.

Nevertheless, Levy remains upbeat.

“There is always talk of a vacuum between generations,” Levy claimed. “People also talked about a vacuum when Amos Mansdorf retired. I’ve just visited the Jerusalem center and there are some great kids there. Lots of talent and potential, but it will take time because they are 10-11 years old. We need to make sure they are put on the right course and receive all they need.”

Levy believes that results are all but inevitable as long as Israeli tennis sticks to a multi-year plan.

“I think that first and foremost we need to start with strengthening the base, but that doesn’t mean that we will neglect the current budding generation of players,” he said. “We have some very good players between the ages of 14-17 and we plan to take care of them the best way possible.

“Regardless, we need to plan for the more distant future because hopefully the next generation of players will be even better than the current one.”

Levy hopes to remain in his current position for many years and enjoy the fruits of his work, although he is under no illusion he will be able to do so any time soon.

“We have a dream. It is a long-term dream,” he said. “There are no shortcuts. This is something that has to be built over many years, but I’m optimistic.”

allon@jpost.com

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