Tennis: Peres holds reception for champion duo

Tennis fan Shimon Peres greeted Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich for the "pride and joy" they brought to him and to Israel.

Peer 298.88 (photo credit: )
Peer 298.88
(photo credit: )
In case you didn't know it, President Shimon Peres is a tennis fan. The information became public on Tuesday evening when Peres hosted a modest reception to express appreciation to Australian Open champions Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich for bringing "pride and joy" to Israel, "and a pleasant surprise." It quickly became clear that Peres has been following the progress of the two tennis champions for quite some time. He visited them in Athens when they were training and also in some other overseas training center which all three remembered, but could not recall the venue. The warm exchange between Peres and the two players was not a matter of polite noblesse, in which the number one citizen congratulates the country's two best men on the court, without really knowing who they are. It was obvious that they had met before. "Who's the guilty one?" Peres asked jokingly as he stood between the two champions. Each immediately pointed towards the other. The champagne was brought out and everyone drank a toast. "It was a grand day," declared Peres, recalling the match which changed the tide of tennis history in Israel. "You surprised everyone." Reporters wanted to know what comes next. "Our plan is to continue to succeed," said Ram. "We went to Australia to succeed and to win, and we hope we can do it again at the Olympic Games," said Erlich. "If we succeed at the Olympics, it won't just be fantastic for us. It will open up a new era for tennis in Israel and it will make the world look at us differently because the matches will be screened around the globe." The most important moment for the pair in Australia was when they were photographed with the Israeli flag in the aftermath of their triumph, said Ehrlich. Peres who manages to relate everything to peace, termed the victory "a corridor to peace," and spoke briefly about what the Peres Peace Center had achieved by encouraging and sponsoring soccer matches between Israeli and Palestinian youth. Palestinian youth are fully conversant with the identities of Israel's soccer stars, and whenever a top-notch player showed up at a game or a practice session, the eyes of the Palestinian youngsters sparkled with excitement, said Peres, adding "I don't think anything gives kids as good a feeling as winning a sports match, especially if it's tennis, because tennis is regarded as a noble game. I much prefer tennis to baseball, not only because it's more elegant, but because it gives the same opportunities to women, as it does to men." Peres said that he wanted to encourage tennis in all the peripheral areas and development towns in the country. He'd visited the Israel Tennis Center, he said, and had been tremendously impressed. Having mentioned equal opportunities for women in the game of tennis, Peres asked about Shahar Pe'er, and said that he would like to watch her play against Russia's Maria Sharapova. However when he heard that the first match is on Saturday, he said regretfully that the President can't watch TV on Shabbat. But he cheered up when told that he could also watch her on Sunday. The players brought their winning cup to Peres, and in return each received from him a small book of Psalms with the Presidential standard and an inscription of appreciation on the cover. "I hope it will bring you luck," said Peres as he handed the tiny volume to each of the players. "This is more important than the cup," said Erlich.