Sunday 12 July 2009

Davis Cup Joy

The Israeli men's tennis team has been competing in the quarterfinal round of the Davis Cup competition against Russia. On paper, the match-up is one of David and Goliath proportions.

The first and last time that the Israeli team competed in the quarterfinals of this competition was in 1987 when it was comprehensively beaten by India. Getting as far as the quarterfinals this year has been a significant achievement for the Israeli team. The Russian team, on the other hand, has been at least a semifinalist for each of the past 5 years. Russia won the Davis Cup in 2002 and 2006, and was the runner-up in 2007. Russia is currently ranked first in the International Tennis Federation rankings as opposed to Israel's eighth place.

It has, therefore, come as a big surprise that Israel has defeated Russia after only 2 of the 3 days of competition have been completed. Israel holds an unbeatable 3-0 lead after winning both singles ties and the doubles tie. The reverse singles will be played for the record only, as they have no bearing on the outcome of the rubber. Israel will play either Spain (the current holders of the Davis Cup) or Germany in the semifinal leg. The gusto with which Hatikva was sung after the doubles victory reflected the unlikelihood of this victory. I can remember few moments of such national pride.

This sporting achievement comes on the back of a number of other notable sporting achievements in recent times. Israel won its first Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Olympic games when Gal Fridman took victory in the windsurfing event. Israeli sportsmen and women have also achieved notable results for judo, athletics, basketball and other sports. We should not forget the tennis court where Yoni Ehrlich and Andy Ram have combined to win both the Australian Open and Wimbledon doubles titles in recent years.

The Maccabi Games, the "Jewish Olympics", will open in Israel next week. This brings together Jewish sportsmen and women from all over the world to compete in many different sporting events. The games were originally conceived to promote the concept of sport in the Jewish world, once considered to be a generally weak point amongst Jews. The games not only promoted sports and sportsmanship amongst Jewish sportsmen and women, it also encouraged and achieved greater sporting achievement.

Surely the Davis Cup victory over Russia, a country much larger and with much greater investment in sport than Israel, can be attributed at least in part to the Maccabi Games and the spirit that it represents. Well done to the Israeli tennis team. Good luck to all participants in the 2009 Maccabi Games.

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