Because of the dedication of Israeli Tennis Centers (ITC) scattered throughout Israel, the team of Jonathan Erlich-Andy Ram is helping put Israel – although on a small scale – on the professional tennis map.
ITC, through its 14 centers, teaches tennis skills to children from all walks of life catering to 13,000 children each week, its Website reports.
During the 1970s and ‘80s donations from various Jewish communities from around the world helped bring these centers to every corner of Israel from Jerusalem to Haifa where Ram and Erlich attended, respectively. “It was the dream of Jewish communities around the world then to bring tennis to Israel,” Ram said.
Shahar Peer, Dudi Sela, Ram and Erlich are the country’s current stars, but names such as Amos Mansdorf, Shlomo Glickstein and Gilad Bloom paved the way.
The four current pros have become accustomed to their celebrity status. “There aren’t too many sportsmen or athletes in Israel so people know us,” Ram added. “There are a few Israelis doing well in sports, so if we do something good, the media writes about us.”
Both Ehrlich and Ram, who immigrated to Israel as youngsters, now stand as the nation’s No.1 doubles team. Known at home and around the tour as “AndiYoni” their benchmark moments on the tour thus far came at the 2008 Australian Open when they won the men’s doubles championship in straight sets over Arnaud Clement-Michael Llodra, 7-5, 7-6 (4). The pair also reached the quarterfinals in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Both highlights stand apart in their careers but neither, they say could’ve taken place without the support of their fans – in Europe but mainly those in the United States. “We see it at every tournament that we play in the states,” said Ram. “It’s a good feeling when we get support.”
Both started in singles play but have since moved over to the quicker pace of doubles competition. “It’s a completely different game,” Ram said. “Doubles is a more serve-volley game. It’s the same game but it’s a different game. You’ve got to believe in yourself; the more you practice the better you are and the better your reactions get.”
“We just decided to focus on our doubles,” said Erlich. “We play well together and we enjoy it.”
While they fared poorly in tour stops in Memphis and Delray Beach, both anticipate and look forward to their June 20 stop at Wimbledon.
Until then they hope their Jewish fans will continue to follow them on the road as they aim to climb the tennis rankings while in America.
“It’s a good feeling when we get support here and we feel like we’re a good representative of Israel as well,” said Ram. “We do it in pride, and we’ll definitely continue to strive for that.”