Sinai says: Is it the end for Israel’s tennis renaissance?

Israeli tennis embarks on what are sure to be some very difficult years.

The expression on Harel Levy’s face as he sank into his courtside chair not only told the story of the match he had just lost, but was also a testament to the future of Israeli tennis.
Every ounce of the 32-yearold Israeli’s being was emanating fatigue and frustration after he fell to Austria’s Martin Fischer in the fifth and decisive rubber of the Davis Cup World Group playoff tie at the Nokia Arena on Sunday.
However, the disheartening look in his eyes said so much more.
It was a gaze of complete and utter dejection following a helpless performance which resulted in Israel being relegated from the World Group after three consecutive appearances.
Levy, currently ranked 227th in the world, was simply not good enough to get the better of Austria’s No. 2, globally ranked 133rd, who was making his debut in the prestigious international competition.
After a career in which he has suffered far more than his fair share of heartbreak, it was clear Levy was debating internally with himself as to whether this was the end of his line.
Levy went on to say that he will consider his options at the end of the year, but that he doesn’t plan to retire from tennis just yet.
Regardless, Israel’s 3-2 defeat to Austria in all likelihood marked the beginning of the end of one of the greatest teams in local sports history.
With just one player in the top-100 and an aging supporting cast, the blue-and-white somehow managed to survive three years among the world’s top-16 nations, reaching the semifinals in incredible fashion last year.
A fortuitous draw could still mean Israel will return to the World Group from the Europe/Africa Zone Group I within one year, but that likely will not be the case. And with no quality youngsters coming through the ranks, the World Group may very well be out of reach for many years to come.
It took Israel 14 years to return to the world’s best after the 3-2 loss to Belgium in 1994 and the subsequent retirement of Amos Mansdorf.
With Ram (30-years-old) and Erlich (33) – not to mention Levy – nearing the end of their careers, it could take just as long this time around.
At No. 346 in the world, 24-year-old Amir Weintraub is Israel’s highest ranked player after Levy and fellow veteran Noam Okun (295), but he has never even broken into the ATP’s top-300 and is far from being an adequate sidekick for Dudi Sela.
Twenty-year-old Gilad Ben- Zvi (683) is the only other player really worth mentioning, and with no other prospects set to make an immediate breakthrough, the future for the Davis Cup side looks to be very bleak indeed.
Producing a world-class player in a small country like Israel is a going to be a delicate balance of luck and hard-work, and with the Israel Tennis Association and the Israel Tennis Centers finally cooperating after years of wrangling, there is some reason for optimism in the long-term.
However, the near-future is nothing short of depressing.
As disappointing as it was to see the team relegated from the World Group on Sunday, the tie against Austria will look like a high-point when even the Europe/Africa Zone Group I proves to be too strong for Israel.
All of this was painfully clear to Levy at the conclusion of his match.
He realized that the defeat may not only mark the end of his own career, but could also be the final chapter in the fairytale story of this legendary team.
The clock has struck midnight, and some good memories are all that are left as Israeli tennis embarks on what are sure to be some very difficult years.