Erlich ends competitive career in tears

Tel Aviv tennis fans disappointed as doubles specialist pulls out of Djokovic pairing with back injury

 Yoni Erlich (left) and Novak Djokovic speak together on the court at the Tel Aviv Expo yesterday. The 45-year-old Israeli and the Serbian former world No. 1 were supposed to pair up for the doubles competition at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open, but Erlich was forced to pull out (photo credit: ORI LEWIS)
Yoni Erlich (left) and Novak Djokovic speak together on the court at the Tel Aviv Expo yesterday. The 45-year-old Israeli and the Serbian former world No. 1 were supposed to pair up for the doubles competition at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open, but Erlich was forced to pull out
(photo credit: ORI LEWIS)

Israel’s Yoni Erlich bade farewell to his competitive tennis career on Wednesday, but it was quite an anticlimactic finish.

There was not much sporting action to celebrate as the 45-year-old was forced to pull out of his much-anticipated doubles match at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open ATP tournament, where he was due to team up with Novak Djokovic in the doubles event.

“I broke down completely earlier, there are not many tears left but I thank you all for coming. I know that you also came to see him,”

Yoni Erlich

Erlich said he shed many tears when realizing that there was no way he could take to the court after suffering severe back pain that clearly affected his posture and made it difficult for him to walk freely.

“This was going to be my last tournament, but three days ago, I began to feel bad pains in my back, and although my amazing medical crew tried their best and worked 24/7 to prepare me [there was no way I could play]. I swear to you that I would have played even if I were 50 percent fit,” Erlich said as the crowd chanted his name and applauded his memorable career spanning three decades and almost 20 years as a leading doubles player on the ATP Tour.
“I broke down completely earlier, there are not many tears left but I thank you all for coming. I know that you also came to see him,” Erlich said as he pointed to Djokovic, who stood alongside on court with the crowd of some 2,000 spectators cheering even louder as they applauded both players.
A tennis racket and two tennis balls on a court (credit: VLADSINGER/CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)A tennis racket and two tennis balls on a court (credit: VLADSINGER/CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Friendly and competitive nature

“I really love you all and I’m so sorry that I wasn’t able to play,” Erlich added as he thanked Djokovic for his participation in the tournament.

The Serb world No. 7 also thanked the crowd with a few words in Hebrew including “Ma nishma?” as he himself applauded and embraced Erlich, a longtime friend, for his extensive and successful career as a top doubles player.

“Unfortunately, today we were not able to perform in front of you, but we cannot forget all the beautiful moments that this man brought to Israeli sport and Israeli tennis. I am full of respect and admiration,” Djokovic said.

The Serbian superstar added jokingly that the two had managed to hold onto their 100 percent winning record as a doubles team. They won the Queen’s Club grass-court title in London in 2010, Djokovic’s only doubles title to date, but one of Erlich’s 22 titles.

Most of those were won alongside Andy Ram, who retired a few years ago. They were Israel’s most successful doubles team over many years and had much success, not least of all in Davis Cup. One of their most notable wins was the Australian Open title in 2008 when the two were at the height of their powers and were ranked fifth in the world.

Djokovic is set to make his much-awaited start in singles action on Thursday and will play Pablo Andujar of Spain in the round-of-16.

 AT 45 years old, Israeli doubles specialist is ready to hang up his racket after playing with Novak Djokovic in the Tel Aviv Watergen Open this week (credit: ORI LEWIS) AT 45 years old, Israeli doubles specialist is ready to hang up his racket after playing with Novak Djokovic in the Tel Aviv Watergen Open this week (credit: ORI LEWIS)

With the main attraction for local fans turning out to be a damp squib, the rest of the day culminated in a top-quality singles match that was still ongoing at press time, as second seed Marin Cilic of Croatia battled against Austrian Dominic Thiem for a place in the last-16.

The late match on Tuesday saw Edan Leshem win an all-Israeli clash against Yshai Oliel 6-3, 6-2 and Leshem, a qualifier, now set to play affable Canadian Vasek Pospisil in the last-16 on Thursday.

Maxime Cressy is the first player through to the quarterfinals after he beat Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-4 in an all-American clash on Wednesday.