Peerless Pe’er! Shahar wins year-end poll

Israel’s top tennis player takes her second ‘Post’ Sports Personality of the Year Award; Casspi finishes second in repeat bid; Nevo third.

Peer 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Peer 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Perhaps the most remarkable part about Shahar Pe’er’s success in 2010 is that this was no more than a foretaste of things to come.
Despite being just 23-years-old, there were those who doubted if Pe’er will ever truly be a top player after she dropped to number 68 in the world rankings in August 2009.
However, Pe’er proved all her skeptics wrong in the past 12 months, an accomplishment acknowledged by you, the readers, who named her as the Jerusalem Post’s Israeli Sports Personality of the Year for 2010.
Pe’er, the first two-time winner in the award’s history, having taken first place in 2007 as well, ends the year at a career-high No. 13 in the world, claiming five victories against top-10 opponents, including a win against current No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.
She reached one final and six semifinals, including in the premier events in Dubai, Madrid and Beijing, and for the first time since 2007, made the last 16 in two Grand Slam tournaments, advancing to the fourth round at Roland Garros and the US Open, while also amassing a career-best $1,122,052 over the year.
“First of all I’d like to thank all the readers who voted for me,” Pe’er told the Post. “It is really nice to hear that people follow and appreciate my achievements. This award gives me great pride and a lot of motivation to continue to work hard and succeed.”
Pe’er garnered over 45 percent of the total vote, beating out last year’s winner, Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi, by over 13%, with Olympic swimmer Gal Nevo finishing in a distant third with almost 9% of the vote.
Pe’er is one of four end-of-year sports awards announced by the Post this week.
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s soccer side was named as Team of the Year, while high-jumper Dima Kroyter was selected as our Young Sports Personality of the Year, and tennis giant Rafael Nadal was chosen as the Foreign Sports Personality of the Year.
But it was Pe’er who was the undoubted star of local sports in the last 12 months.
“This was the best year of my career,” Pe’er said. “I beat many excellent players and was relatively consistent throughout the year.
Overall, I’m very pleased, but continue to aspire for more and hope that 2011 will be even better.”
Pe’er’s game was significantly improved in 2010, resulting in a career-best record of 47 wins and 21 losses. She also finally found the consistency that eludes so many players on the WTA Tour, only losing twice against opponents ranked outside the top-50 and being knocked out in the first round of only two tournaments this year.
“In 2009 I couldn’t build any long and positive momentum,” Pe’er noted. “The Dubai episode when I was barred from competing in the tournament cut short a good period and then I was injured for around a month.
“Fortunately, things began to fall into place in the end of the year and I got back to form.”
Pe’er believes she made dramatic progress in her game over 2010 and reveals that she never doubted herself.
“When you love what you are doing self-doubt is irrelevant,” said Pe’er, who participated in the prestigious season-ending WTA Championships in Doha as an alternate to end 2010. “I knew I was a good player and that if I continue to work hard and smile on court, the results would come. I’m pleased I wasn’t wrong.
“I work very hard to improve my tennis all the time,” she added. “I improved almost all the aspects of my game in the last year. My serve, volley and forehand are all vastly improved and I’ve become a more aggressive player. Fortunately, I still have plenty to improve and to progress.”
Pe’er entered the season with a 10- match losing streak against players ranked in the world’s top-10, having not beaten one since she got the better of Dinara Safina in June 2008.
That barren spell was brought to an end with a win over Wozniacki in Dubai, and Pe’er now finds herself within touching distance of becoming a top-10 player herself.
“I improved as a player, I matured and I gained experience,” said Pe’er, when asked to explain her return to winning ways against top-10 players.
“One of the most important things in tennis is to get to know the tour and the players, and learn how to play against the very best.”
The split with coach Pablo Giacopelli in July could have derailed Pe’er’s year, but she showed how much she had matured by quickly rebounding.
“The most important thing I learned from this was that I depend on myself,” Pe’er said. “It’s true that a coach is important, but I’m the one on court and I’m the one who wins or loses matches. Despite Pablo leaving in the middle of the year I succeeded in ending the season well and that gave me a lot of confidence.”
For years now, Pe’er has been the target of anti-Israeli protests around the world, while also missing out on the Dubai tournament in 2009, being denied a visa apparently because of anti-Israel sentiments in the Gulf state following Operation Cast Lead.
However, after last year’s subsequent uproar, Pe’er was allowed to compete in the prestigious event this past February, and despite the occasional difficulties, she is proud to represent Israel.
“It isn’t nice to be the target of anti-Israeli protests and I don’t think this should occur,” Pe’er said.
“But I succeeded in putting everything else aside and focusing on my tennis. It brings me great pride to represent Israel abroad.
“Maybe all of these protests just make me stronger and bring out the best in me.”
Pe’er only finally completed her 2010 schedule at the end of October, but after a couple of weeks of holiday she was already beginning a five-week training program with coach Craig Kardon to be ready for the start of the new season in Brisbane, Australia next week.
The future is once more looking extremely bright for Pe’er and she is expecting bigger and better things in 2011.
“My main goal is to be consistent throughout the season,” she said.
“Beyond that, I would like to do better in the Grand Slam events and of course also win some other tournaments.
“If I maintain a high level of play I’m sure the results and rankings will come as well.”