Tennis: Austria's Thiem to play at Tel Aviv Watergen Open

A high-caliber men’s pro tennis event was last held in Israel in 1996.

 AUSTRIA’S DOMINIC THIEM, who is set to play in the Tel Aviv Watergen Open next month, is seen in action at the French Open in Paris in May.  (photo credit: PASCAL ROSSIGNOL/REUTERS)
AUSTRIA’S DOMINIC THIEM, who is set to play in the Tel Aviv Watergen Open next month, is seen in action at the French Open in Paris in May.
(photo credit: PASCAL ROSSIGNOL/REUTERS)

Dominic Thiem of Austria, the 2020 US Open champion, is the first player named to compete in the Tel Aviv Watergen Open men’s professional tennis tournament, the organizers have announced.

The ATP 250 event, which will be held from September 25-October 2, is the biggest tennis tournament ever to be staged in Israel and will offer prize money of close to $1.2 million. Matches will be held at the Expo Tel Aviv fairgrounds on two indoor hard courts and there will be seating capacity for about 2,500 spectators, a tournament official said at a news conference on Monday.

The tournament returns to Israel

A high-caliber men’s pro tennis event was last held in Israel in 1996. That tournament was inaugurated in 1978 and was held yearly, except in 1982 but funding waned during the heyday of the expanding tennis circuit in the 1990s and the tournament at the Israel Tennis Center in Ramat Hasharon was axed.

The new tournament is back in Tel Aviv 26 years later thanks to an opening in the calendar caused by the cancellation through COVID-19 of the Zhuhai Championships ATP 250 event in China. Major funding by Watergen and its owner, entrepreneur Mikhael Mirilashvili, brought the event to Tel Aviv.

“ This is the first time after 26 years, so we must do everything 100%, and if we do, we hope that there will be good news [for the future].”

Israel Tennis Association chairman Avi Perets

Although it is currently slated as a one-off, the organizers hope to secure the tournament a recurring spot on the calendar, organizing committee member Victor Chernov said in remarks.

Yshai Oliel is confident it won’t be long before he makes his long-awaited breakthrough after claiming his first senior title this past weekend, winning the Futures tournament in Sajur in the Upper Galilee (credit: GILAD KAVALERCHIK)Yshai Oliel is confident it won’t be long before he makes his long-awaited breakthrough after claiming his first senior title this past weekend, winning the Futures tournament in Sajur in the Upper Galilee (credit: GILAD KAVALERCHIK)

“We do have plans [for the future] that we will announce at a later date, good plans,” he announced with a smile.

Israel Tennis Association chairman Avi Perets added: “We are currently working as hard as we can to ensure that this event is as good as we can make it and we know that if we do things well, it will increase our chance of hosting other tournaments.

“ This is the first time after 26 years, so we must do everything 100%, and if we do, we hope that there will be good news [for the future].”

Chernov added that “this is an opportunity for Tel Aviv to become a new part of the global tennis season. There is going to be an amazing fan zone experience at the event.”

Tickets are due to go on sale at the end of the month with more details to follow, he said.

Who could win the Watergen Open?

Thiem, 28, is returning from injury and requested and was granted a wild card, according to Chernov. The Austrian was ranked as high as No. 3 in the world but now languishes at 232.  

Two other wild cards will be offered to Israelis whose present ranking isn’t high enough to afford them a place in the tournament. Their identities will be revealed on September 7 when the list of registered players will also be announced. 

One of the wild cards appears likely to go to Israeli No. 1 Yshai Oliel, who is currently at a career-high ranking of 305. 

He will have the chance to warm up close by when he and his teammates represent Israel in a home Davis Cup tie against the Czech Republic on September 16-17. That event will be held at the Shlomo Group Arena across the road from the tournament venue.

The Ramat Hasharon tournament was known by various names over the years. Home favorite Amos Mansdorf appeared in the final a record five times and won in 1987, the only Israeli to do so. 

Legendary American player Jimmy Connors won the last of his 109 career singles titles at the event in 1989 when he beat Gilad Bloom in the final​. 

The tournament still holds the record for having the youngest winner of an ATP event when Aaron Krickstein lifted the trophy in 1983 at the age of 16 years, two months. 

Spaniard Javier Sanchez was the last winner in 1996.

96.