Weintraub the linchpin of Israel’s Davis Cup hopes

Sinai Says: It was by default rather than design that Amir Weintraub became the star of Israel’s Davis Cup team.

AMIR WEINTRAUB in Ramat Hasharon 370 (photo credit: Photo Gadi)
AMIR WEINTRAUB in Ramat Hasharon 370
(photo credit: Photo Gadi)
It was by default rather than design that Amir Weintraub became the star of Israel’s Davis Cup team.
When Harel Levy and Noam Okun both retired two years ago, there was an understandable concern regarding who would take up the mantle as the team’s No. 2 singles player behind Dudi Sela.
Levy and Okun played important roles in Israel’s return to the World Group after 14 years in 2008 and helped the side record one of the greatest feats in Israeli sports history the following year, with the blue-and-white progressing all the way to the semifinals of the prestigious competition before losing to defending champion Spain.
Weintraub stepped into their shoes in March 2011, with Israel captain Eyal Ran simply not having any other reasonable option.
In the two years since, the 26-yearold Rehovot native has lost just one meaningful Davis Cup singles match, winning five times, including twice against Japan last September to lead Israel back to the World Group and a tie versus France in the first round this coming weekend.
Weintraub almost retired in 2009 after growing fed up with asking his parents for money to sponsor his dream, but his eventual decision to give professional tennis one more shot has paid off spectacularly on a personal and national level.
He climbed 23 places to No. 173 in the world on Monday after reaching the second round of the Australian Open in Melbourne, winning three matches in the qualifiers to progress to the main draw of a Grand Slam event for the first time in his career before recording a straight-sets win over Guido Pella in the first round.
World No. 19 Philipp Kohlschreiber was too strong for Weintraub in the second round, but Israel’s No. 2 believes his decision to dedicate his life to tennis was validated once and for all by his success in Melbourne.
“It felt amazing to win in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament,” he told me earlier this week. “I don’t think you can really say you have a tennis career until you’ve done that. I hope this wasn’t the last time I achieve this because I want to feel that way again.”
Weintraub left Melbourne with a check for almost $48,000 in prize money, nearly a third of what he earned throughout his career until two weeks ago.
However, it is sponsorship deals that have finally given Weintraub financial peace of mind, three years after he almost turned to coaching to make ends meet.
Much-needed backing from Discount Bank and Operate Lease, as well as a generous bonus from the Israel Tennis Association for reaching the World Group, mean Weintraub finally has the conditions he requires to flourish.
“This is the first time that I can say I’m finally doing things properly, for example always flying with someone to tournaments abroad. I’m not going to make a profit, but at least I have everything I need to succeed,” he said.
“I’m really happy with the progress I’m making. I work hard every day and I’m taking one week at a time. I try not to think too far ahead and so far that philosophy is working for me.”
Weintraub was ranked just 257th when he beat Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz, ranked over 100 places above him, in a dream Davis Cup debut in March 2011.
He beat Canada’s Milos Raonic, ranked over 150 places in front of him, in the World Group playoffs in September 2011 before suffering his only meaningful defeat in the competition to date two days later, losing the decisive rubber against Vasek Pospisil.
However, he exceeded expectations once more when he defeated Portugal’s Rui Machado, ranked 98 places ahead of him, to help Israel to a 3-2 victory last April before almost singlehandedly lifting the national team back to the World Group in Tokyo four months ago.
Not only did Weintraub beat two top-70 players in three days, dominating Go Soeda and Tatsuma Ito, who were both ranked over 150 places above him, but he also did so with a delightful style of tennis.
“The wins in the Davis Cup gave me a lot of self-belief,” Weintraub noted. “Any victory against a top player gives you confidence that you are good enough to play at that level.”
Weintraub’s flair seems to finally be resulting in more success on the professional tour and he will not need to play in the partly amateur World Team Tennis league in the United States this summer, as he did last year, in his search of extra income.
However, Weintraub, who is fighting a foot infection to be fit for this weekend’s first round tie in France, has no illusions regarding the mammoth task facing the blue-and-white in Rouen.
“I’ve been playing well for a while and the entire team is entering the tie in good form,” Weintraub said. “I picked up a lot of confidence by reaching the second round of the Australian Open. However, I’m going to be facing a player ranked No. 8 in the world and not one who is ranked at No. 150 so even with all the confidence in the world it is going to be very tough.
“The fact we are playing in the World Group is an amazing achievement in itself. It is easy to say that we are going to defeat France, but the truth is that our chances are very small,” he added.
“In order to beat France we need not just one miracle that would allow me to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8) or for Dudi to defeat Richard Gasquet (10). We will need three miracles. If we were hosting the tie I might have said it is possible, but the fact the tie is in France only complicates matters further.”