Top tennis stars excited for Tel Aviv’s Watergen Open

Djokovic, Thiem, Schwartzman among the headliners • Returning tournament to start on Rosh Hashanah

 JEWISH-ARGENTINE star Diego Schwartzman will be in Israel this month for the Tel Aviv Watergen Open (photo credit: USA TODAY SPORTS)
JEWISH-ARGENTINE star Diego Schwartzman will be in Israel this month for the Tel Aviv Watergen Open
(photo credit: USA TODAY SPORTS)

Fans of Israel tennis are overjoyed that the Watergen ATP 250 series Tel Aviv Open will return to Israel this September after a 26-year hiatus. The hype is especially high since such top players as Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic and Jewish-Argentine Diego Schwartzman will be coming to the Holy Land.

Some tennis lovers, however, wish the tournament would have delayed its September 25 start date by two days to avoid conflicting with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

The tournament, with $949,475 in prize money, takes place September 25-October 2 at the Expo Tel Aviv complex. The tournament follows Israel’s hosting of the Davis Cup, the premier international team event in men’s tennis, against the Czech Republic in Tel Aviv on September 16 and 17.

Sunday, the 25th, is the eve of Rosh Hashanah, which will continue through sunset on Tuesday, September 27.

Stars recall previous trips to Israel

“It is very exciting to have a prestigious ATP event back in Israel. It is amazing the names of the players that have signed up for the tournament,” reports an excited Yoni Yair, VP of Development for Israel Tennis and Education Centers (ITEC).

Other top players in the 28-person men’s singles draw and the 16-team doubles draw include Botic Van De Zandschulp of the Netherlands, Karen Khachanov (Russia), Tommy Paul (USA), Jenson Brooksby (USA), and Adrian Mannarino (France).

Joao Sousa of Portugal enjoyed being in Israel in 2012 for the Davis Cup but playfully noted, “You beat me – not a very good memory!”

Sousa, like many players, has opportunities to explore Israel given the playing demands.

“I didn’t get to travel around Israel but we stayed in a nice hotel near the beach in Tel Aviv. The country had a nice atmosphere. Hopefully, I will get to explore more!”

Yair recalls the excitement in Israel when past tournaments came to town.

“I remember the buzz and the atmosphere through the years that we hosted the international ATP tournament in Israel. It was such a special time in Israel when first-class players played in the tournament. The stands were always full.”

Yair, whose Israel Tennis and Education Centers provide tennis training and social impact programming to thousands in Israel, is pleased with the impact of such tournaments on the younger generation of Israelis.

These tournaments were a huge inspiration for our younger players to dream big. I am sure that this event will be a huge success and will drive and introduce the game of tennis to so many young children. The tournament will have a huge impact on tennis in Israel and will create great morale.”

"The tournament will have a huge impact on tennis in Israel and will create great morale"

Yoni Yair, VP of Development for Israel Tennis and Education Centers

DIEGO SCHWARTZMAN (right) and Spaniard Rafael Nadal meet at the net after the Jewish-Argentine won their quarterfinal match last month in Rome. The two face off today in the French Open semifinals (credit: REUTERS)DIEGO SCHWARTZMAN (right) and Spaniard Rafael Nadal meet at the net after the Jewish-Argentine won their quarterfinal match last month in Rome. The two face off today in the French Open semifinals (credit: REUTERS)

Argentine grandson of Holocaust survivors makes Holy Land return

Schwartzman has spoken openly about being Jewish and being the grandson of Holocaust survivors.

“My great grandfather on my mom’s side, who lived in Poland, was put on a train to a concentration camp during the Holocaust,” the 16th-ranked Schwartzman recently noted. “The coupling that connected two of the train’s cars somehow broke. Part of the train kept going, and the other stayed behind. That allowed everyone trapped inside, including my great-grandfather, to run for their lives. Luckily, he made it without being caught. Just thinking about it makes me realize how lives can change in a heartbeat.

My great grandfather brought his family by boat to Argentina. When they arrived, they spoke Yiddish and no Spanish. My father’s family was from Russia, and they also went to Argentina by boat. It wasn’t easy for all of them to totally change their lives after the war, but they did.”

Schwartzman is excited to finally get to Israel.

“I really want to be there. It is my first time. I have friends there. Many of my friends went there a few weeks ago for the Maccabiah. I know everything about the country but I want to be there just to see myself – some tennis and some good moments, I hope.”

Schwartzman will not have much of an opportunity to travel around Israel as his next tournament following the Watergen Tel Aviv Open will be in Kazakhstan or Japan.

Israel to welcome world's former No. 1

While the Israel tournament is delighted to welcome a top-ranked Jewish player to the tournament and to Israel, there is added excitement in welcoming world’s former No. 1, Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic has been considered controversial for a number of his views on vaccination. The 35 year old has refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As a result, he has missed such tournaments as the Australian Open and the current US Open. He did play at Wimbledon where he went on to win the tournament.

 NOVAK DJOKOVIC is not playing in the ongoing US Open due to his COVID-19 unvaccinated status. But the Serb is slated to play next month in Tel Aviv. (credit: REUTERS) NOVAK DJOKOVIC is not playing in the ongoing US Open due to his COVID-19 unvaccinated status. But the Serb is slated to play next month in Tel Aviv. (credit: REUTERS)

Djokovic is also no stranger to Israel, having visited in 2006 to receive treatment from physiotherapist Rafi Virshuvski. He has visited on other occasions and was quoted as saying: “I played here with Serbia in the Davis Cup, but we didn’t have time to travel. This time I did some traveling in my three days here, you have an incredible country. I got to know it a little bit now and discovered there is plenty more to see. I was in Jerusalem in all the holy places. It was an amazing experience. As a religious man, a Christian, I feel obligated to come here at least one more time to see and experience the fantastic holy land, to pray and see where Jesus was crucified, where he was, where he was buried.”

“We are happy and excited to host one of the greatest tennis players in history, Novak Djokovic, at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open 2022 tournament and look forward to enjoying his impressive playing skills here in Israel,” added Watergen President Michael Mirilashvili.

One lifelong supporter of Israel tennis recently wrote to Mirilashvili to share concerns about the tournament coinciding with Rosh Hashanah.

“It is disappointing and that is putting it mildly, to realize that the first two dates of the tournament will be played on Rosh Hashanah, September 26 and 27. This not only clearly desecrates the spiritual holiness of these sacred days in the Jewish calendar; it also prevents those of us who are Orthodox and who love tennis, from attending on those two days. And there are certainly some who will boycott the entire tournament because of this religious desecration.”

He suggested that the Israel Tennis Association, the ATP and the CEO of Watergen, consider suspending play on Rosh Hashanah and extend the tournament through October 4.

“As a tennis aficionado, I know that with the commitments of the players and officials such a suspension would not be easy.”

The tournament is scheduled to proceed as planned with play starting on September 25.