Game, set and match

Behind our Wimbledon championship victory stands the Israel Tennis Center.

ram wimbledon 88 (photo credit: AP)
ram wimbledon 88
(photo credit: AP)
We had waited so long for this moment. The first Israeli Wimbledon title, only a dream for so many years, is now a wonderful achievement. Israeli tennis players have ranked among the top 30 in the world rankings in the past 30 years, with record achievements in Davis Cup and Federation Cup Team competitions and excellent results in the most significant junior international tournaments. It is no coincidence that these accomplishments coincide with the establishment of the first Israel Tennis Center facility in Ramat Hasharon 30 years ago. Andy Ram, who just won the 2006 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title, learned his tennis at the Jerusalem Tennis Center, one of 14 facilities built and managed by the Israel Tennis Centers. Donors have contributed $150 million to the Israel Tennis Center for over 30 years. This non-profit organization has been generously supported with donations from all over the world: Great Britain, America, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Holland, Belgium, Israel and others. THROUGHOUT the years, Israeli's best tennis players were groomed at the Center's facilities dispersed throughout Israel - from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Arad in the south. Yoni Erlich, Andy's doubles partner, learned his tennis at the Haifa Tennis Center. Shahar Pe'er, currently the leading Israeli women's tennis player, ranked 25 in the world, trained at the Tel Aviv Tennis Center; and Anna Smashnova, who won the Girl's Singles title at the Roland Garros Tournament only one year after making aliya, continued a wonderful career as an adult for over a decade with her tennis home being the Israel Tennis Center in Ramat Hasharon. Amos Mansdorf, Gilad Bloom, Tzipi Obziler and Harel Levy all trained at the Center's facility in Ramat Hasharon - and the list goes on. UPON ITS establishment the Israel Tennis Center set goals of bringing tennis to the children of Israel, developing players and coaches (Oded Yaakov, until recently Shahar Pe'er's coach, is one of many), creating supportive systems in physical fitness and psychology, and of course building and maintaining courts and facilities at the highest levels. Janine Strauss, CEO of the Israel Tennis Center says, "The Israel Tennis Centers have become the breeding ground for producing outstanding players and champions. We train 8,500 children each week, all around the country. Our training programs cover the whole spectrum, with activities for kindergarten kids through to the establishment of the Resident Academy in Ramat Hasharon. "The Academy currently has 30 excellent tennis players, 18 of whom live at the Center, attend school in Ramat Hasharon and train full-time. Each one of them harbors the same dream - a Wimbledon title." THE ISRAEL Tennis Centers have become a second home for thousands of children in Israel. They have not only succeeded in providing each and every child, irrespective of socioeconomic background, with the opportunity to learn tennis, but also assist those already playing who need support during difficult times. Andy Ram was one of the latter. About three years ago a severe injury to Andy's back threatened to end his career. The Israel Tennis Center took on the responsibility when no one believed that he had any chance of achieving results internationally and included him in their Challenger Team. This framework guaranteed him and his doubles partner, Yoni Erlich, professional and financial support during the hard road to recovery and success. "This was no doubt the best offer I could have received. I can only find words of esteem for the Israel Tennis Center for their support and help" stated the new Wimbledon Champion upon his return to Israel several days ago. As per CEO Strauss: "Anyone who understands anything about tennis knows that training is not enough - tournaments are essential. From the time of its establishment, the Center has led the way in bringing international tournaments to Israel. Throughout the years donors have been found to sponsor hundreds of professional tournaments, small and large, that have provided players with the opportunity to both receive practical experience and more importantly, gain their initial world ranking at home." AFTER YEARS of primarily hosting significant men's tournaments in Jerusalem and Ramat Hasharon, for the first time the Israel Tennis Center, in cooperation and conjunction with the Israel Tennis Association, will be hosting a large women's professional tournament, the Anda Open, at the Ramat Hasharon Tennis Center in October this year. This premier tournament is being sponsored by Henry Zimand in memory of his wife, Anda. Leading women tennis players from Israel and around the world are expected to participate. One of the most senior tennis consultants and coaches in the world, Peter McCraw from Australia, has arrived in Israel to promote tennis at the Center. McCraw, formerly developmental coach of Maria Sharapova, has visited Israel several times and now, in an extended stay, intends to back declarations he has made during previous visits, saying, "The best is yet to come, as the Israel Tennis Center is poised to become a world leader in developing players who are household names on the ATP and WTA tours." Andy Ram's raising the trophy at Wimbledon's main stadium was only the start. The author, a sports journalist, was five times Israel's Women's tennis champion. She was the country's representative at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and was a member of the Federation Cup team.