While family members in Israel continue to be threatened by Hezbollah fired rockets, Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich are waging battles on tennis courts in the United States. VOA's Jim Stevenson has more on the Israeli men's doubles pair as they make their bid to play at the upcoming U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York.
Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich left Tel Aviv last week to fly to Washington and play in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. The 25-year-old Ram and 29-year-old Erlich are seeded third in the men's doubles draw. They are trying to concentrate on their game and seem relaxed between matches. But Ram admits their daily routine has a very serious side.
"We are far away from home," he said. "The only routine we have this week is talking to our family and hearing the news. How many rockets have gotten into Haifa. How many have died, unfortunately. Sad news."
Ram and Erlich became partners in 2003 and reached the Wimbledon semifinals that year. They have won seven titles together, including two tournament victories this year (in Adelaide, Australia and Nottingham, England). Now ranked seventh in the world, Ram says their success is being followed at home in Israel.
"Sports in Israel is not that big," he said. "Soccer is number one, basketball is number two and tennis is now number three. Since 2003, people know who Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram are. And they have been following us ever since."
Because tennis is not widely popular in Israel, Erlich says the pair tries to promote the sport often, especially to young players.
"Every time we are in Israel, we are trying to play. We do not hold that many big clinics (or) organized clinics," he said. "Just every time we are at the clubs, we like to play with some kids. And we are glad to do that."
Tennis coverage in Israel increased last month when the country scored its first win over Britain in Davis Cup team competition. Ram and Erlich were key players in the victory. But as Ram told VOA Sports, their popularity is also growing in America.
"The United States was always our second home, I think," he said. "When we are playing in Israel, obviously the crowds are for us. Playing in the States, we always get so much support from the Jewish community, from the Israelis just traveling here. And hearing 'Kadima' (from the stands), like everybody trying to say 'Come on' [eds: literal translation is 'forward' or 'onward'] in Hebrew. It is a nice feeling."
Ram and Erlich reached the quarterfinals at Legg Mason Thursday with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Australian Ashley Fisher and Tripp Phillips of the United States. The Israeli duo is hoping to play in perhaps three more tournaments before the U.S. Open. The final Grand Slam event of the year begins August 28 in New York.