Jacob has high hopes for Israeli tennis

Oded Jacob has probably been the most influential figure in Israeli tennis over the last decade.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Oded Jacob has probably been the most influential figure in Israeli tennis over the last decade. Jacob, 42, captain of the Fed Cup team and current coach of Tzipi Obziler and Harel Levy, also coached Shahar Pe'er for six years and was an integral part of Israel's Davis Cup coaching staff for over a decade. Israeli tennis is currently going through one of its most successful periods ever. Pe'er is quickly becoming the greatest tennis player Israel has ever had, Obziler is a legitimate member of the world's top 100, and together the two have taken Israel's Fed Cup team into the World Group for the first time. The Israeli men are also on the rise. The Davis Cup team will play Chile in a couple of months for a place in the World Group and Dudi Sela and Harel Levy are finally showing signs of realizing their potential and breaking into the ATP's top 100. Many people have contributed to this golden period, but Jacob deserves more credit than anybody else. Perhaps the most impressive of Jacob's many achievements is the unprecedented success of the Fed Cup team. The side, which Jacob has captained over the last six years, defeated Austria 4-1 in the World Group playoff less than two weeks ago and will be among the elite eight teams in the competition in 2008. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Jacob explained that "the special harmony within the team," played perhaps the most significant part in the squad's triumph. "Everybody knows what to say and when to say it. The team has a special feel about it and that effects the players' ability on court," Jacob said. Israel will not be seeded in the first round of the World Group so will face one of this year's four semifinalists, the US, Russia, Italy and France. Nevertheless, Jacob is aiming for victory when the competition resumes next year. "Our goal is to continue to progress," he said. "I'm not sure how far this team can advance. We're growing in confidence with every win and our aim is to take it, one tie at a time." In the last 12 months the 34-year-old Obziler recorded the best results of her career and reached a career best No.75 in the WTA rankings. Jacob began coaching the underachieving player last summer and it's no coincidence that during the last year Obziler has finally begun playing to her potential. "Obziler started traveling with a coach much more since fitness coach Yuval Higar and I began guiding her. I think that gave her a big push forward," Jacob said. "The constant support in Israel and abroad encouraged her and raised her confidence. I also feel that Pe'er's success inspired Tzipi to bigger and better things." Jacob believes that Obziler still has plenty of room for improvement, but also thinks that she can continue climbing up the rankings even at her current level. "Her abilities deserve a higher ranking," he said. "However, she needs to translate the ability into results. Tzipi is always improving her shot selection and is learning how to vary her game." Jacob has also played a huge part in the ever-growing success of Pe'er. He coached the 20-year-old from the age of 13, but the two split-up after last year's French Open. "It's disappointing that after so much work you don't get to reap the fruits of your labor," he said. "However, the personal sacrifices I had to make to continue coaching Pe'er were just too high. "I have three children and it was difficult for me to be away from my family for almost 30 weeks a year. I knew that this move might harm me professionally, but I think I made the right decision." For the first time in her career Pe'er faced criticism this month after what many people considered to be a disappointing loss to eventual finalist Marion Bartoli in the third round of Wimbledon. Jacob feels, however, that the criticism was totally unjust. "You can't argue with Pe'er's excellent results this year," he said. "I think people's expectations are too high. She broke records, so people expect her to continue breaking records at every event she plays. "She's at the top and plays the best players in the world. There's a lot of instability at the top of the rankings and Shahar can be a top 10 player." In the last couple of weeks the Israeli men have made encouraging signs of joining their female counterparts at the very top of the world of tennis. Dudi Sela and Harel Levy both won Challenger events last week and are slowly but surely climbing up the rankings. "I think Harel most take it one step at a time," Jacob said of the player he guided to 30th in the world in June 2001. Levy (215), who plummeted down the rankings after suffering a career threatening injury, only recently re-hired Jacob in the hope of becoming a top player once again. "Levy believes that he can get back to the top and is giving his all to accomplish that goal. He's totally committed. It will be difficult for him to break into the top 100, but not impossible. "Sela has surprised everyone in the last couple of weeks. This just proves yet again that he's a good player and that on a given week he can achieve excellent results. "He's a huge talent, but to become a top 100 player he must play well on a consistent basis." Levy and Sela will most likely be in the Israel squad for the Davis Cup World Group playoff against Chile and despite its underdog status Jacob believes the national team can record a surprise win at Ramat Hasharon at the end of September. "Our players have already proven that they can raise their game at home," said Jacob, who was part of the Israel's Davis Cup coaching staff for 10 years (1995-2005). The Chileans may have better players, but if one of them is not at his best than the tie is wide open. "Our players are in good form and anything can happen in sport."