On a sunny Sunday this past June, world No. 17 Shahar Pe’er joined mayor of Akko and other dignitaries to celebrate opening of coastal city’s new Israel Tennis Center.
By HOWARD BLAS
On a sunny Sunday this past June, world No. 17 Shahar Pe’er joined the mayor of Akko and other dignitaries to celebrate the opening of the coastal city’s new Israel Tennis Center. The day concluded with an exciting exhibition game between Pe’er and 19-year-old Ofri Lankri, one of Israel’s up-and-coming tennis players.The day was a celebration for Israel Tennis Centers throughout the country, long known for their programs geared toward children at risk and with special needs, and for strengthening coexistence between young Jews and Arabs.The 14 Israel Tennis Centers – totaling 178 tennis courts from Kiryat Shemona to Yokneam – also strive to promote and develop world class Israeli tennis players.They serve as the training ground for the next generation of Shahar Peers, Dudi Selas, Andy Rams, Yoni Erlichs and Harel Levys.The Jerusalem Post recently caught up with Ram at the Pilot Pen Tournament in New Haven, Connecticut, and with Sela and Peer at the US Open in New York, to shine some light on the recent progress among Israel’s future tennis superstars.Ram, who has focused on his doubles game recently, sees a tremendous gap between the generation of Amos Mansdorf and the generation of Erlich, Sela, Peer and himself.“We played at the Israel Tennis Centers for many years,” he said. “I played in Ramat HaSharon. We are in the process of building the next generation of Israeli tennis players. It will come, and there will be Israeli tennis.”While Ram is somewhat hopeful about Israel’s longterm tennis future, Sela and Peer are less optimistic.“There is nobody behind us,” Sela said, going on to blame the lack of young upand- comers for the fact that “many of the coaches have left for overseas.”Sela did acknowledge several young Russian-born Israelis, however, seeing promise in 14-year-old Valeria Patiuk (currently world No. 330 for juniors) and 15- year-old Igor Smilansky (No.747 in the world). But he is not sure whether Israeli will produce world-class players in the near future.Pe’er agreed, saying, “unfortunately, there is not much coming up. I just know one girl who is 14 [Patiuk] that they are talking about her, that she’s pretty good.”But Pe’er offered a partial explanation for what appears to be a somewhat dim future for Israeli tennis.“You know, we are a very small country that we’re trying to invest in sport, but we have other things to take care of,” she said.“Every ten years comes a new player... I hope in the future we will have some good players.”
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