The 'craziness' of the Ramat Hasharon crowd

The "intimidating atmosphere" created by Israeli supporters is, in most cases, nothing but hype.

sharapova 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
sharapova 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The "intimidating atmosphere" created by the Israeli supporters at a home international is all too often claimed by opposition coaches and players to be a significant factor taken into consideration in their preparations. But in most cases, it turns out to be nothing but hype. Before Israel's crucial European Championship soccer qualifier against England, for example, many of the England players and then-England manager Steve McClaren continuously talked up the inspirational effect the Israel fans were going to have on their team and how the England players would have to battle against this - when in fact nothing of the sort occurred. For the majority of the match last March, Ramat Gan Stadium was nearly as quiet as Arsenal's old ground (ingeniously nicknamed The Library for its lack of atmosphere). International tennis, however, is a different story. Somehow, the ferociously raucous and electric atmosphere created by the crowds who fill the Ramat Hasharon Tennis Center's Canada Stadium during Fed Cup and Davis Cup ties have been incredibly inspirational for the Israeli players and had a quite dramatic effect on the play of their opponents. It was seen last September when Dudi Sela was carried forward by his supporters to beat Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, one of the best players in the world, propelling Israel into the Davis Cup World Group. And it was shown again on Saturday and Sunday during Israel's Fed Cup tie against Russia. It really is one of the most wonderfully positive examples of Israeli nationalism you can find. Men, women and children, young and old, come together to urge on the usually lesser ranked Israeli players. While too many sporting events involving Israeli national teams are tinged with politics, tennis seems to be immune to it. Indeed, when on Saturday afternoon I asked Maria Sharapova if she had been concerned about the security situation in Israel before arriving in the country she looked at me in the most quizzical manner, apparently not understanding the relevance of the question. There has of course been a concern that the gleeful Israeli support at Ramat Hasharon is beginning to go over the top. Anna Chakvetadze was less than forgiving when the Israeli fans wound her up by booing her and even calling balls out during some points. Chakvetadze reacting to the baying crowd with the theatrical exuberance of a pantomime dame. Although Chakvetadze used the Israeli taunting to her advantage and swept Obziler aside, in her post-match press conference she accused the Israeli fans of having a lack of respect towards the players. "I expected the crowd to be noisy, but not like that," she told reporters. "Maybe they thought they came to a soccer match, but it is tennis. There was no respect [shown] to the players. Tennis is not so big here, so many people don't know the rules." If only the fans at Israel's soccer matches were so loud. Sharapova's reaction after her match against Tzipi Obziler on Saturday showed that it is up to the players to deal with the situation in a professional manner. In the second set of that match the crowd began trying to put her off by imitating the grunts she made on each shot as she hit the ball. But not only did Sharapova ignore the mimicking, she made light of it afterwards, saying it had really inspired her and she loved "the craziness of the Israeli fans." Next weekend Israel's Davis Cup team has a good chance of beating Sweden in an historic World Group tie. Let's hope the fans can be just as inspiring as they were this past weekend, and the Swedish players take it in good heart.