(photo credit: AP)
Shahar Pe'er's eyes give her secret away. A fleeting look is enough to understand why she is destined to greatness. Watching the 20-year-old chase a ball she has no chance of reaching, just confirms to the beholder why Pe'er has gotten this far and what will take her so much farther.
Determination, will power, resolve - call it what you like. Pe'er has taken a single ingrained quality and achieved what is already one of the most successful careers in Israeli sports history.
Pe'er's biggest successes have come this year, with the highlights in the Australian Open (reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal) and in the huge Miami tournament (advancing to the last four).
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on her 20th birthday, Pe'er said she was enjoying every moment on the WTA tour and looking to continue her good start to the season.
"My goal for the remainder of the season is to continue to play well," she said. "I would like to do especially well in the big tournaments and also to continue to enjoy my tennis."
Pe'er's next big goal is this year's second Grand Slam, in Paris at Roland Garros the end of May.
"I feel that I'm ready for the claycourt season," she said. "I've been training on clay the last few weeks and despite having a weeklong break because of the Fed Cup, I still believe I'm ready."
Pe'er, currently ranked a career-high No. 15 in the world, feels she deserves her success and is not surprised by her amazing rise to stardom.
"I just take everything in stride," she said. "I work hard and, as a result, progress in the rankings. I'm ranked as high as I deserve to be."
As well as reaching personal heights, Pe'er also played a key role in helping Israel's Fed Cup team reach the World Group playoffs for the first time ever this year. She won both of her singles matches against Canada in the World Group II first round and is confident ahead of the tie against Austria July 15-16.
"We still don't know what surface we will be playing on," she said, "so it's difficult to say who the favorite is. Every away draw is difficult and they have excellent players, but so do we. The tie is wide open and we will be fully prepared.
"From a young age it has always been important to me to play for the national team. You don't get ranking points or money for winning these matches, but it's a unique event."
One of the qualities that makes Pe'er so special is her constant hunger to perfect her game and improve through rigorous training.
"I still need to improve every part of my game," she said. "I still have plenty of room to improve mentally and physically. That's why I continue to train and work hard."
Despite her singles success, which means she's playing more matches than ever, she enters the doubles competition at every tournament. The world's top female players rarely play doubles events, but Pe'er takes a different approach.
"I plan to continue to play doubles," she said. "It helps my singles play and I enjoy taking part in the doubles events."
Pe'er always attracts plenty of attention abroad, and not just for her play. She has to constantly answer questions from foreign journalists about her army service, which Pe'er is due to complete in November.
"It doesn't really bother me that I'm constantly being asked about my army service," she said. "But sometimes I get bored with giving the same answer 100 times. They don't know anything about the army and they're especially interested because I'm a girl."
Despite its glamorous reputation, playing on the WTA tour is as demanding as any other sporting career. Pe'er plays in tournaments across the globe 10 months out of the year, with most of the remaining two months devoted to training and preparation.
"The tour is especially difficult because you're away from home most of the time," she said. "You have to deal with many things on your own and even though my family helps out a lot, I still need to do a lot by myself.
"The tour is very demanding. The travel, the pressure and everything else make it quite difficult."
But there is no reason to feel sorry for the prodigy. Pe'er's career earnings recently surpassed $1 million. At her current rate of progress the titles and money will accumulate faster than anybody had ever imagined.
"You have to first and foremost love playing tennis," Pe'er said. "You have to work hard and you have to enjoy it. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail, but whatever happens you have to cope with it."
With such an attitude, is it any wonder Pe'er is rewriting Israeli record books on a weekly basis?