Double Vision on Centre Court
Top-Seeded Israeli Tennis Duo Shares the Sacrifices, Goals and Rewards at the Stadthalle
Breakfast. Practice. Press. It’s just another day at work for Israeli tennis pros Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, who were in Vienna for the prestigious BA-CA Tennis trophy tournament in mid-October at the Wiener Stadthalle.
After a mild morning practice, the two disappeared into the dressing room to prepare for an all-too-familiar day with the press. The two players are used to tournament venues, photographers and the pleas for autographs.
The two travel the world 35 weeks a year playing tournaments on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour, rarely staying in the same city for more than a week.
This year has been the most successful of their career, with four titles together and two finals, and with Ram winning his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in the mixed doubles. At the Stadthalle they are the double top seeds and ranked seventh in the world.
Hoping to secure a place in one of the most prominent tournaments of the year, the Shanghai Masters, they need to finish the season in the same manner they began, by winning. Sometimes labeled the "Fifth Grand Slam," The Shanghai Masters is the year-end tournament in which the top eight single players and eight double teams meet for the year’s final showdown.
Looking good, at this writing, with a 85-point lead on the current 8th-ranked team, they are confident for the first time in their career that they will be taking part.
The road to becoming a tennis star has not been an easy one, however. Erlich and Ram both started playing tennis at an early age, sacrificing any "normal" childhood to the demands of the sport:
"Instead of going on vacation with your friends you go on training camps" Erlich told The Vienna Review. However, neither could say they regretted a minute of it.
"I have experienced many beautiful things because of tennis," Ram said. Erlich remembers with pride that he was playing US tournaments at the age of 13, a feat that most of the older players could only dream of.
The adrenaline they get from playing, and the thrill of winning under the eyes of thousands of fans cheering them on, makes up for all of the inconveniences of the life tennis demands. Even though time apart from either wife or fiancé is not something they enjoy, it can also make moments together precious.
Always meeting new people and always being in the spotlight, though, can have its bad sides too. When Ram got married in September, he had no time to go on a honeymoon. "The next day I went to [my] ‘honeymoon’ with Erlich in Thailand," he confessed, where they played a tournament the two went on to win.
One might wonder where the ambition and enthusiasm comes from, to live a life of constant travel, distanced from friends, family, from one’s own bed. It might just be the moment when these men are surrounded by those thousands of fans holding their breath for every shot and letting out a huge collective sigh as the ball just catches the edge of the tape. Or is it the moment when they lift the trophy up high over their heads, showered in cheers and applause?
And their success only seems to grow as technology joins hands with professional sports. During their stay in Thailand, the two were asked to write the newly introduced players blog for the ATP.
Fans could read about their daily "chores," their routines and some of their most precious memories as tennis players. Both have noticed increased recognition since they begun writing the blog,
"When we are one week on the front page of the ATP website, it is something special," Erlich said. "[Roger] Federer is only one week as well, it is not usual to get such exposure." And he can’t help commenting:
"All the women are jumping on me all the time."
In their first round of the Vienna tournament, the Israelis faced last years Davis Cup finalist from Slovakia, Dominik Hrbaty, paired with rising teenage star Novak Djokovic of Serbia. They easily walked away with the match because, they believe, they play very well together as a team.
"We have more experience in doubles, Ram and I know each other for a long time, our communication is great, and in doubles we have better skills than them (serve and volley)."
But still they are very tough players and we needed to play really well to beat them, and we did" Erlich said. People do not usually consider tennis a team sport, but the demands of doubles tennis make the importance of teamwork clear.
In the end, the duo did not win the title in Vienna, losing in the semi finals to Czech team Petr Pala and Pavel Vizner, who later went on to win the tournament. Still, the week in Vienna made them 8,900 euros richer, and gave them a good start for the upcoming indoor season.