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Old Jan 24th, 2008, 02:10 AM   #1
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Everyone grab a partner

Everyone grab a partner
By Paz Chasdai

"How do you explain Israel's dominance in the doubles tournaments?" asked an Indian journalist when he saw with amazement the daily result sheet from the Australian Open. I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm sorry, I can't explain it," I curtly answered, "I have no clue."

"You must have a long tradition, special coaches and former stars who specialize in the discipline," the Indian tried to investigate further. "No," I answered, "Absolutely not."

He continued to stare at me in amazement. "You are aware that you won today in the men's doubles, the women's doubles and in the mixed doubles," he said, explaining his sudden interest in Israeli tennis. "Have you always been experts in doubles?"

I smiled with pleasure. Finally, after 10 days at an intense tournament, we have made an impact. Even though it is ancillary and meaningless, it still is something. Don't be confused, there hasn't been any dramatic change. The singles tournaments are the ones drawing interest, the doubles matches do not draw more than 40 fans to each match, and we are still talking about a negligible sub-genre. But in the current state of Israeli sports, representation in the final stages of a Grand Slam tournament is not something to take lightly.

The day began with Yoni Erlich and Andy Ram advancing to the semifinals of the men's doubles with an uncomplicated 6-4, 6-1 victory over Frenchmen Marc Gicquel and Fabrice Santoro. It continued with Shahar Peer, who reached the final in the women's doubles with Victoria Azarenka after an exhilarating 0-6, 7-5, 7-6(3) win over Zi Yan and Jie Zheng of China. For dessert, it was Andy Ram again, this time with Nathalie Dechy, advancing to the semifinals of the mixed doubles by defeating Taiwan's Yung-Jan Chan and Eric Butorac of the U.S. 6-1, 6-2.

"So, is it always like this for you?" asked the Indian journalist. "No," I summed up, "but we are getting used to it."

Andy and Yoni

It has been days since Melbourne Park was filled with rowdy Israeli fans, who went from one court to another creating a fuss following our tennis players. Yesterday, just a few bothered to show up for Ram and Erlich's quarterfinal, and no matter how hard they tried to encourage the eighth-seeded Israeli duo, their voices could barely be heard in the spacious Margaret Court Arena. Maybe what dampened the fans' spirits was the roar coming from the adjacent Rod Laver Arena, where a real tennis battle was being waged between Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic.

But that didn't bother Ram and Erlich, who probably are already used to playing in front of sparse crowds and knew how to step it up at crucial moments. They polished off a pretty easy victory.

"We are proud of ourselves, because as the tournament progresses, we are only getting better," said Ram. "This is the highest level we have showed for a long time."

Shahar and Vicky

Shahar Peer's decision to devote most of her energy to the doubles tournament in Melbourne may still turn out to be a critical one going into the rest of the season. Peer has a tendency for melodrama, and an embarrassing loss, like the one to Dementieva, is likely to affect the Israeli tennis player's self-confidence and belief - the two most dominant ingredients in her repertoire. The mood in her camp now has changed completely.

"I have already forgotten about that loss and I am looking ahead," Peer said after she advanced to her first-ever Grand Slam final, smiling for the first time since the beginning of the tournament. "I am practicing hard, working hard, I feel good and I hope success in the doubles will give me the confidence I need."

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