ATP Tennis Is Back in Israel…
… After more than 26 years even if Tel Aviv has only been granted single-year license for the time being
Israel is a beautiful country. Besides, it is the most advanced country in that part of the world. It is a country that houses without an iota of a doubt the world’s best startup ecosystem.
It is a pity to witness Israel making the headlines only owing to the conflict in the region. Media feeds off negativity, and there are negative stories reported regularly about the country. It is as if everything in all the other countries in the Middle East is hunky dory.
Fact is, that part of the world can’t do without instability. Amid such tension and turmoil, it is the progress nations like Israel and the United Arab Emirates are making that should make the headlines. These countries can serve as examples to show the region in a positive light. Then again, media feeds off negativity.
That being said, this week there’s a positive development happening in the Mediterranean nation, and it has got nothing to do with the political situation in the region.
It pertains to the fact that international tennis is back in Israel. Tel Aviv is hosting an ATP Tour 250 tournament this week, and field includes Novak Djokovic — the global superstar from Serbia and a 21-time major champion, as also two other Grand Slam winners in Dominic Thiem of Austria and Marin Čilić from Croatia.
It was 26 years ago that the country last hosted a major tennis competition.
Israel did host an ATP Tour tournament for a considerable period of time. The same was initially played from 1978 to 1981, and subsequently from 1983 through to 1996, with Spaniard Javier Sánchez being the last player to win. There were a few memorable moments in those years.
In the 1983 final, American Aaron Krickstein, then aged 16 and two months, set a record for being the youngest player to win a singles title on the ATP Tour. It is a record that still stands.
Another American, the legendary Jimmy Connors, beat home favorite Gilad Bloom in the final in 1989. It turned out to be the 109th and final singles title in his illustrious career. Connors also remains the only Grand Slam champion to have won at Tel Aviv.
Taking of home favorites Amos Mansdorf is the only Israeli player to win the Tel Aviv title, doing so in 1987. The six-time winner on the tour made it to the final on five occasions overall.
In fact there were plans in place to bring tennis back to Israel in 2014. The ATP Tour had approved of the return, following an absence of 19 years, with the tournament in St Petersburg (Russia) being moved to Tel Aviv.
However, the conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip put paid to all hopes. Israel launched its offensive in July 2014 following a surge in Hamas rockets, and the tournament that had been scheduled to be held in September that year was cancelled. Politics yet again scored over sports.
St Petersburg was reinstated as a stop on the ATP Tour in the following year. It is sheer irony that Tel Aviv is hosting an event in the year when the game’s governing body has decided to remove St Petersburg from the calendar following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Before you jump the gun it is imperative to mention that Tel Aviv hasn’t replaced St Petersburg on the tour. The tournament, scheduled to be held in Russia’s second largest city, has instead been moved to Nur-Sultan, the capital city of Kazakhstan.
Tel Aviv, on the other hand, has benefitted from China’s continuous pursuit of a zero-Covid policy. That firm stand has forced the ATP Tour to cancel all tour-level competitions in China for a third year running, making room on the calendar for other cities to be added.
The Israeli capital is one of five other cities added, along with San Diego (California) in the United States, the South Korean capital of Seoul, Gijon in Spain and the twin Italian cities of Florence and Naples.
For starters, these cities have only been granted single-year licenses for the time being, in an attempt to avoid any unnecessary holes in the ATP schedule.
In fact two of the six one-off ATP 250 tournaments will be running parallel. While the tournament in Seoul will be played outdoors the other will take place indoors, at the Expo Tel Aviv Complex.
It comes across as no surprise that one of the many Israeli startups, the water-from-air technology company Watergen, happens to be the competition’s official sponsor.