Sinai Says: Shahar Pe'er a true champ on and off the court

Pe’er proved her mettle on the tennis court long ago and her career is now well and truly back on course thanks to her remarkable fighting spirit.

By BY ALLON SINAI
February 17, 2010 04:45
4 minute read.
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Peer Australian Open . (photo credit: AP)

Regardless of Wednesday’s result against world number 3, Caroline Wozniacki, Shahar Pe’er has already proven in recent months that she is not only one of Israel’s greatest ever female athletes, but also one of the country’s best ambassadors.

All top tennis players must overcome intense pressure to succeed, but none have to do so while hearing dozens of protesters calling them a murderer or after being escorted onto court by 16 body guards.

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Pe’er proved her mettle on the tennis court long ago and her career is now well and truly back on course thanks to her remarkable fighting spirit.

It was just six months ago that Pe’er seemed to be on a downward spiral typical of tennis players who achieve extraordinary exploits at a tender age.

After reaching number 15 in the world as a 19-year-old in January 2007, Pe’er struggled for form in the second half of 2008 and for most of 2009, falling all the way down to No. 68 in the rankings last August.

She never stopped working hard, but even her rigorous training regiment was backfiring, with a stress fracture in her right foot keeping her out of action for a month-and-a-half last summer.

From May 2008 until September 2009, Pe’er reached the quarterfinals of just four of the 32 tournaments she competed in and some experts even predicted her best days were behind her.

However, those who knew Pe’er best never doubted she would be back on top and not only emulate her former results, but even surpass them.

Perhaps the most crucial part in Pe’er’s return to form has been the hiring of coach Pablo Giacopelli. Pe’er went through several coaching changes from 2008 onwards until finally teaming-up with Giacopelli ahead of the 2009 season.

The guidance of Giacopelli may not have borne fruit immediately, but Shahar felt right from the start that the Argentine was the right man for the job.

For over a year, Pe’er’s erratic form on court was mirroring the many adjustments she had to make off it every time she replaced a coach, but Giacopelli changed all of that.

Not only does he possess the ability and experience needed to be a top coach, but he also connected with Pe’er from the start, a crucial element when considering the two probably see more of each other than of their families.

The pieces finally began to fall into place six months ago, with Pe’er opting to play in smaller tournaments to build her confidence, resulting in the titles at Guangzhou, China, and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Pe’er was well placed at the beginning of this year and she knew that by overcoming the lows she is better equipped to experience the highs.

“I’ve been through a difficult year, but I think I’m a better player for it,” Pe’er said ahead of the season. “I’m feeling better both mentally and physically. I’m expecting big things to happen in the coming year.”

Pe’er clearly knew what she was talking about and she has been playing some of the best tennis of her life in the past six weeks.

After progressing to the semifinals in Auckland, New Zealand, she advanced to the final in Hobart, Australia, with only Wozniacki knocking her out in the third round of the Australian Open.

The victory over 15th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer in the first round of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Monday was her first over a top-20 player since March of last year and Tuesday’s emphatic win over Virginie Razzano (24) was further proof that Pe’er’s career is once more heading in the right direction.

What makes Pe’er’s accomplishments truly amazing is the fact that she has been able to do well while anti-Israeli protesters have been targeting her for abuse and the international media has been quizzing her time and again on her political opinions rather than her latest match.

It would have been completely understandable had Pe’er chose to shy away from all the attention and decided to only focus on her tennis. However, not only has she managed to resurrect her career in recent months, but at the same time she has also taken a brave stand against the mixing of politics and sports.

“I really wanted to win this match, not only because of tennis, but because I want to make a statement that politics and sport should not be mixed,” she said after her victory over Wickmayer.

Pe’er may not beat Wozniacki on Wednesday, but win or lose there is no longer any doubting she is a true champion both on and off the court.

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