Few people believe an Israeli tennis player will ever win Wimbledon.
However, there are those who not only think it will happen, but are actually working tirelessly to achieve the lofty goal.
Israeli tennis is undergoing a quiet revolution over recent years, with many of the country’s most talented young players seeking to realize their dreams under the framework of the independent, non-profit David Squad rather than the Israel Tennis Association or Israel Tennis Centers.
The David Squad, named after ancient Israel’s King David, was set up a decade ago by David Coffer, a Jewish businessman and philanthropist from Britain who made his money in real estate, and his son Adam.
It all began in 2005, when David Coffer recognized the distinct lack of clay court training available in Israel.
He financed a two-week trip for eight of the best Israeli junior prospects at the time to come and train on the red clay in the south of Spain.
This team, joined by their coaching staff, became “The David Squad” and hasn’t stopped evolving since, turning into the leading independent tennis academy system in Israel.
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Among the seven players who currently receive full funding of all their expenses as they aim to become Israel’s next tennis stars are: Seventeen-year-old Yshai Oliel, who was earmarked as the future of the sport in the country after winning both the 12s and 14s titles at the prestigious Junior Orange Bowl International in Florida and leading women’s prospect, 17-year-old Shelly Krolitzky.
The coaching staff includes Andy Zingman, Tzipi Obziler, Eyal Omid and Jan Pochter, with the players also benefiting from the services of a sports psychologist, nutritionist and more.
The academy is based in the tennis center in Ra’anana, but the likes of Oliel and Krolitzky spend much of the year either playing or training abroad, with the costs covered by the Coffers, who believe tennis can be used as a tool to show the world the true face of Israel.
“Our dream is to have an Israeli Wimbledon champion so the whole world can stop and say: ‘well that is what Israel is like,’” Adam Coffer told The Jerusalem Post
. “These beautiful smiling kids who are charming and magnanimous all the time, rather than the vision that most of the non-Jewish population outside of Israel have of Israel pointing guns at the Palestinians. It is just a complete misconception, and because Israel doesn’t really focus on Hasbara as much as it should, we think sport can help break down those barriers.”
Coffer, 38, noted how Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Switzerland’s Roger Federer are examples of the impact tennis players have the potential to make.
“If you asked my generation 15 years ago what a Serbian person is like, we would have described a very cold person, almost like a bad guy out of a James Bond or Rocky film,” explained Coffer. “Now maybe five out of 10 would picture Novak Djokovic smiling and being charming/ Sport has that power.
“If you ask 100 people who the Prime Minister of Switzerland is, no one would have a clue, but everyone knows where Roger Federer is from.”
Coffer said the David Squad presented a perfect opportunity for his father and himself through which to support Israel as well as youth.
“We don’t do things by half. If we are going to do something we are going to do it properly. We will fail massively or succeed massively, but we are going to give it everything,” he noted.
“It is not just a matter of throwing money at these kids. We operate as a family. We absolutely look after everything for them. We are very close to each other. We are not silent backers.
These are our kids.”
Both Adam and his father are heavily involved in the daily running of the David Squad and they are looking to expand in the coming years.
“We are looking at other revenue streams and are in talks with large supporters and benefactors,” said Coffer. “There is only so much you can spend as a family. We put substantial personal money into this, as well as time. We are not too proud to take funding and support and we are embarking on a development process.”
Adam said they received many approaches and he is confident that a greater investment will ultimately result in greater success.
“We are not interested in winning every tournament in Israel. We want international success,” he explained.
“We have the best players in Israel, certainly the majority of them, and we now need that internationally. That is where you break down barriers and where you get the achievements.”
Coffer said that the David Squad is not about building courts, but building champions, and he believes the program’s future, and that of Israeli tennis as a consequence, is as bright as ever.
“Ten years ago we didn’t realize we would get to where we are now, but we are not where we want to be yet,” he noted. “We still have further to go. We want to be internationally recognized as the elite program to come to in Israel, which is happening. We didn’t start to just have a few kids knock around balls and do well in Israel. We always wanted to get to an international level that we are at now and we want to go further.
“We are learning every day,” he added. “We never stop and never think we are happy. We always want more. Once you think you have achieved something you stop trying. This is only the beginning."
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