Back spasms derail Israeli tennis star’s swan song | IJN
By Juan Melame
JEL AVIV — The Tel Aviv Open, a top tournament on the professional tennis circuit, returned for the first time since 1996, and it brought emotional moments to several Jewish players.
Jonathan Erlich, a 45-year-old Argentinian-Israeli who was known as one of the best men’s doubles players in the world in his prime, was due to play his final tournament alongside a famous friend and former doubles partner – 21 times Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic recorded a loving pre-Open video for Erlich, greeting him in perfect Hebrew, calling him by his nickname “Yoni” and expressing his excitement to play with him again.
Djokovic’s only doubles title came at the Queens Cup in London in 2010 with Erlich, who was born in Buenos Aires but moved to Israel as a toddler and won the Australian Open title 2008 in doubles with fellow Israeli Andy Ram.
But Erlich suffered debilitating back spasms ahead of the duo’s scheduled game last week and was forced to forfeit.
“I can say that even if I was 50% fit I could play, because I know the crowd was waiting for my game, but unfortunately I couldn’t do it,” Erlich told the website. of the Open. “The pain was so intense that I could barely walk.”
Djokovic – who courted controversy over his refusal to get a COVID-19 shot and was criticized online by pro-Palestinian fans for playing in Israel – won the tournament on October 2 for his 89th career title .
“The crowd here is very passionate about the sport, about the tennis and I’m really, really happy to be here and to play here in front of you, so thank you for your support,” he said after his match.
For the world number 17 player, Diego Schwartzman, the tournament was the occasion of what was his first visit to Israel. Schwartzman, a favorite on the professional tennis circuit among Jewish fans, played for a few minutes in a wheelchair with Yoram Gershony, an Israeli who won gold at the 2012 Paralympic Games.
But on September 29, Schwartzman was knocked out of the tournament in the round of 16 by Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech, ranked No. 60.
In an interview, Schwartzman said his recent string of rapid losses was due to his constant touring schedule, which has given him only a few weeks in total at home in Buenos Aires since April.
He also said he wanted to return to Israel in the future.
“I will come back here for sure at some point in my life, on vacation or to play games, I don’t know,” he said.
The few other Israeli players in the draw had also been eliminated by September 30.
The Tel Aviv Open was held from 1978 to 1981 and 1983 to 1996. Israeli tennis player Amos Mansdorf made the final five times, winning in 1987, making him the only Israeli to win the test.
Jimmy Connors won his last career singles title at the event in 1989.
The tournament still holds the ATP record for the youngest winner of an ATP event: Aaron Krickstein in 1983, at the age of 16 years and 2 months.
He was supposed to return in 2014, but that year’s Gaza war forced a cancellation. The following year, it was apparently canceled for good.
In July, the Israel Tennis Association. and Watergen – an Israeli company that makes devices capable of producing water from the air – announced they were bringing the tournament back, as the Tel Aviv Watergen Open.
“We have been working on this for a long time and we are delighted that our efforts to organize a tennis tournament of this magnitude have paid off,” said Watergen chairman Michael Mirilashvili, a Georgian-Israeli real estate billionaire who bought the company in 2016.