Analysis: Pe'er's ascendency almost defies reason

Pe'er has something that can't be taught and can't be bought: a unique combination of heart, guts, nerve, spirit.

peer hands up 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
peer hands up 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Something strange happens when you try and break down Shahar Pe'er's tennis game. It just fails to add up. Any way you look at it, the 19-year-old shouldn't be a top 20 player. Yes, she has a powerful forehand, and yes, she has an accurate backhand. But those attributes are by no means enough to justify a world ranking of No. 20, especially when you take into account her serve, which is mediocre at best. But Pe'er has something that can't be taught and can't be bought: a unique combination of heart, guts, nerve, spirit and - more than anything else - a will to win that is second to none in Israeli sport. Pe'er's gift was on show clearer than ever last year in the least expected place - the finals of the Israel national championships. On a rainy day in Ra'anana, she played Tzipi Obziler for the title. To label the Israeli championships insignificant would be an overstatement. The tournament awards no ranking points and the prize money for winning is microscopic even compared to the money Pe'er receives from losing in the first round of most tournaments. In front of a handful of spectators, Pe'er, who was preparing for the start of the 2006 season, lost 6-4, 6-4, after battling the sharper veteran for the entire match. Any reasonable player would have been happy with the preseason practice and wouldn't have given the defeat in a trivial tournament a second thought. But not Pe'er. Moments after the match was over, she stepped aside and wept uncontrollably as if she just squandered a match point in a Wimbledon final. Even a loss in Ra'anana was more than she could handle. Pe'er has to win - she won't accept anything less. She may be less talented than many of her opponents, but she more than makes up for that with a winning mentality that ensures she has a chance against anybody. The bare facts may indicate that Pe'er is just another ordinary player. But make no mistake, she is anything but ordinary. Pe'er was earmarked from a young age to become a tennis star, but no one expected her to do it at such a breathtaking rate. She is on her way to becoming one of the greatest Israeli athletes of all time. You can be certain that even though her current level of play defies reason, Pe'er's goal is to continue improving. How much better can she get? Logic says not much. But only a fool would bet against her. I know I won't.