Noam Okun is a very busy man.
He may have retired from tennis last month,
but it still took me the better part of two days to get ahold of
After 16 years of highs, and mainly lows, on the different global
tennis circuits, the 32- year-old decided to call it quits in December. However,
he has immediately moved on and is currently spending his days training to be a
Okun sees himself getting involved in tennis once again in
some capacity in the future, but for the time being he just wants to take care
of his family.
Okun began his pro-career as a 16-year-old, but only
really made his breakthrough five years later in 1999, entering the world’s
In 2000, he competed in his first Grand Slam tournament at the
Australian Open, but just when the future began to look bright, he was sidelined
by a nine-month knee injury.
This was to be a recurring theme throughout
Time and again, whenever everything seemed to be finally
falling into place, injuries cruelly robbed Okun of his chance to become a top
Okun reached a career-high world ranking of 95 in April 2002 and
kept his place in the top-200 for much of the next five years.
never really realized his potential and now he has had enough of the
“When I was a young player, I had a never-ending drive
to succeed,” he told me on Tuesday.
“Even when I was injured or lost a
match I had the desire to come back and keep working and training. It just came
to me naturally.
“Suddenly in the last 18 months I didn’t have that
feeling anymore. I forced myself to practice. I forced myself to fly abroad.
After losses I couldn’t even look at a tennis court.
“I know players who
are ranked 30-40 in the world and don’t really enjoy playing tennis.
they are so good at it that they continue playing. I gave so much of myself, but
I was broken by the fact that I got so little in return.
“In the last few
years I was never really physically fit and that resulted in a lot of
retirements from tournaments. The injuries really affected me
I’m not a kid anymore and I have a family and understood that
it was time to move on.”
Besides the aforementioned knee injury, Okun
suffered serious shoulder, thigh, elbow and back injuries, to name just a
He believes that had he been luckier with his body, he could have
achieved far more success.
“I realized maybe 50 percent of my potential,”
he said. “As time goes by I begin to feel more and more that my career could
have been so much better.
“I won’t say that I didn’t have a good career,
because I know a lot of people who didn’t reach a quarter of what I achieved.
But with my talent I could have done much more.
“I was always strong
mentally, but the injuries stopped me.
Three years ago I endured a
serious back injury and until now I suffer with it. I considered retiring then,
but somehow battled through, even though I never really fully recovered. But my
head was never the same. That injury completely broke me.”
Okun was a key
member of the Israel Davis Cup team for over a decade, starting in 1999, winning
16 of the 30 singles matches he played.
Nevertheless, he believes he was
never truly rewarded for his contributions.
“Even when I was at my best I
didn’t get enough financial support,” he claimed. “I always had to make
calculations of what I can and can’t afford. I couldn’t travel with a coach all
year because I couldn’t afford it.
“I was No. 95 in the world and I was
spending half of what I was earning on a coach.
“There was a stage when I
was the Israel No. 1 and carried the Davis Cup team on my shoulders, but I got
no support. I’d give everything, but was left to fend for myself. I know players
who are ranked 300 in the world who get more backing than I got when I was in
the top 100.”
Okun ended 2010 ranked No.
355 in the world, and
with annual earnings of just $41,550, realized he could not continue playing for
long even had he still enjoyed tennis the way he did in the past.
doesn’t leave the game a bitter man and hopes to one day return to
For the time being he looks set to watch from the side as the
future of his sport in Israel faces so much uncertainty.
optimistic,” he said when asked of Israeli tennis’s prospects.
can happen, but you don’t want players to appear in an arbitrary way. In Spain,
France and Russia there is continuity and nothing is incidental.
have that in Israel.
“It is difficult to create players when there is no
In Israel we expect players to come out of nowhere.
Sometimes that happens, but when it doesn’t, you can’t complain about
“If you don’t do enough to build a system that will nurture kids from
the start until they reach the senior circuit you can’t expect to have top