A very long older article from the Jeruselem Post:
One year ago, the closest Andy Ram got to the action at Wimbledon was what he could see on his TV screen.
Back and knee injuries had kept the 22-year-old tennis player on crutches for three months and off the court all season. As he watched the match with a friend, he asked him, "Do you think I’m going to play tennis again?‘ and joked, ’Do you think you’re going to see me at Wimbledon?"
At the same time, Yoni Erlich, then 25, also thought Wimbledon glory was far from his reach. His disappointing 2002 season extended into early 2003 and nearly convinced him to hang up his racquet.
"I was very close to quitting just before Wimbledon. [I thought] Wimbledon might be the last tournament I’d play,‘ he relates. ’Instead it was the opposite… Everything went great. My career changed 180 degrees. Instead of going down, it went straight up."
As it turned out, the longtime friends stunned the tennis world — and themselves — when they shot out of nowhere to make it to the Wimbledon semifinals this July.
In a tight, well-battled match, the unseeded Israelis bested the No. 2 seeds 7-6 (8), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7) before falling to eventual winners Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Todd Woodbridge of Australia. Ram went on to compete against, and lose to, tennis legend Martina Navratilova in the mixed doubles final.
The finishes were the best-ever by an Israeli doubles pair and among the very best in Israeli Grand Slam history. It also vaulted the players forward in the international doubles rankings to career highs of 44 for Ram and 53 for Erlich.
Their achievement brought welcome attention to Israel, its tennis program, and, of course, the stars themselves.
"Almost everyone [in Israel] was watching the match. Even people who had never watched in their lives were watching on the TV. I think there was a huge impact in Israel,‘ Erlich says. ’Luckily there was nothing going wrong in Israel at that time, and it was a beautiful story to tell. It’s been a long time since some small athletes achieved such a big result."
He continues, "I think people were hungry for something like that."
As were the players, given their recent struggles.
"Wimbledon came big time for me. I needed it," Ram says emphatically.
"During the tournament I think we played our best tennis ever," he says, eyeing Erlich as they sit side-by-side at a coffee shop not far from Ram’s Tel Aviv apartment.
"It was amazing,‘ Erlich concurs. ’We struggled in the beginning of the first match but since then we rolled through all of the tournament… It was something that we kind of dreamed of all our life, to do something like that, especially at Wimbledon."
They volley back and forth in their conversation, playing off each other as if they were on the court. They share broad, athletic builds and a slight Spanish inflection in their speech — Ram came to Israel from Uruguay at the age of five, while Erlich’s family immigrated from Argentina when he was one. But they have marked differences as well: Ram has dark features while Erlich is fair; Ram explodes with energy while Erlich is more collected.
Yet both remain humble about their accomplishment, quick to note their surprise at having done so well at the Grand Slam tourney.
NOT EVERYONE, though, is shocked by their results. Shiri Zlotikman has been aware of Ram’s talent from an early age. She first met the Jerusalem-raised player during tennis competitions they participated in as teenagers and has followed his career for the seven years they’ve been dating.
His current success, she says, "doesn’t seem strange to me."
Slightly more bizarre has been Ram’s newfound celebrity.
"Everybody in the street comes up to him and says that he did a great job. It’s great. In one week, everything’s different," she says.
Their coach of two years, Anthony Harris, also affirms his long-held belief in the pair’s abilities.
He recalls feeling particularly proud the day that Erlich acknowledged he agreed with Harris’s assessment.
In the midst of their Wimbledon run, the coach received an SMS from Erlich that read: "You were right. We can do it."
"I felt from his message that he had real belief,‘ Harris recounts. ’It created a feeling in me that was really exciting, because I know how important that [confidence] is to success."
Oded Yaacov, who coaches the pair in the Davis Cup competition but otherwise observes them from the sidelines, says that success like theirs can boost the confidence of players throughout the country.
When players start to reach their mid-20s without a breakthrough, they often consider quitting, he says. The Wimbledon showing "brought a lot of belief to all the players that if you keep at it day in and day out, your week will come." The impact of their achievement isn’t limited to the tennis community’s players, according to Israel Tennis Association general manager Yoram Baron.
He says the Wimbledon triumph generated interest in tennis and press coverage that have previously been lacking.
"I’m sure that many people heard about their [performance] and watch tennis now. Hopefully more kids will sign up."
At the same time, both Baron and Yaacov point to Israeli tennis successes beyond Ram and Erlich’s. Amos Mansdorf and Shlomo Glickstein were strong enough players to push Israel into the top division of the Davis Cup competition, a feat that hasn’t been repeated.
Harel Levy (187) and Noam Okun (191) are higher-ranked singles players than Ram or Erlich, while Anna Pistolesi, ranked 20 in this past month, has been Israel’s most successful player [see box].
Yaacov reeled off the achievements of Israel’s court stars as Ram and Erlich prepared to compete in the Israel League 2003 finals on September 9.
The dynamic duo ended up losing the match. But on the court they displayed the same smooth coordination that powered them to win four Wimbledon rounds.
Chatting between serves as well as pauses on the bench, they bump fists and back slap even after points they lose.
"One of the main things with doubles is communication, and when you have communication, you win tournaments," explains Ram.
THAT COMMUNICATION comes naturally to the pair, who have capitalized on a friendship established years ago and which still results in them doing "everything" together.
"They’ve played together and trained together since they were kids, which means they know each other and each other’s game," says Harris of the advantage they enjoy over many other doubles teams. He adds that they also complement each other, with Yoni making great returns and Ram providing strong serves.
"We kind of grew up together," says Erlich, explaining that this shared past has given him a good sense of his partner’s strengths and weaknesses.
He won’t comment on Ram’s shortcomings, but he’s forthright about his friend’s good points.
"He’s very positive on the court and he’s very energetic. I’m a little more cool, maybe a little more solid. He puts me a little more on fire when I need it."
Indeed, while they sit together talking, Erlich possesses a certain reserve where Ram breaks into frequent wide grins.
When Ram describes Erlich as a good person, Erlich’s quick to return the compliment, though the older player jokes, "I won’t tell more because then he gets cocky." Their easy interaction has its roots in the friendship which they solidified as teenagers training together at the Wingate Institute, just outside Netanya, while in their teens. They teamed up for tournaments in 2001, enjoying some limited successes, but disbanded last year due to Ram’s injuries.
They only reunited at Wimbledon by accident. Erlich hadn’t expected to make the trip to England but got knocked out of another tournament earlier than expected; Andy, meanwhile, hadn’t been able to find a partner.
"At the last moment we signed [up] together," Erlich says.
Their winning combination garnered victories at two recent tournaments — one in Binghamton, NY and one in Istanbul — following Wimbledon. And they each won the American tournaments they played with different partners this summer.
They also shared the disappointment of getting knocked out of the US Open during the first round with play that Ram acknowledges was less than exemplary.
Erlich admits that handling past poor performances can be difficult for a two-person team, but says they have learned to work through any difficulties.
"I trust him and he trusts me. There are a lot of matches where I didn’t play well but he played well and we still won, and the opposite. That’s the main story. We always need to deal with each other. When one person’s upset the other one needs to pump him up and visa-versa," he says, noting it’s important to leave any issues they might have on the court.
"It’s like marriage. If you have a bad day at work, you don’t put it on your wife."
The relationship is one they hope to strengthen, particularly through an appearance at next summer’s Olympic Games. Making the cut is a long shot — only the top 32 pairs get to compete — but Ram is confident they’ll be able to build on their Wimbledon triumph and reach Athens.
As he puts it, "With the food comes the appetite."
Israel's best ambassadors are personable, passionate and proud of their country. It doesn't hurt if they're world-class tennis players.
Andy Ram, 25, and Jonathan "Yoni" Erlich, 28, close friends since their teen years and doubles partners for the past three years, have been traveling around the world together, entertaining crowds and sharing their love for Israel.
Ram, ranked 24th in the world for mens doubles, and Erlich, ranked 22nd, are the No. 11 seeds in the men's doubles draw of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Each was entered in the mixed-doubles draw as well.
The past year has been successful but somewhat bittersweet for Ram and Erlich: Representing Israel in the 2004 Olympics in Athens last summer, they advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Germans Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler, who went on to take the silver medal.
In October, Ram and Erlich won the Grand Prix de Tennis de Lyon, in France, and hoped for success in the Australian Open in January. But they lost a heartbreaking third-round match to No. 2 seeds Bob and Mike Bryan, twins from the United States.
In February they won the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Pleased with their fourth career title, Ram and Erlich geared up for May's French Open, but Ram received bad news two days before the tournament -- his 60-year-old father had died of a heart attack.
The duo dropped out of the tournament and returned to Israel, where shiva was observed in Ram's mother's home in Jerusalem.
Ram speaks warmly about his family, who moved from Uruguay to Israel when Andy was 5.
"I still have grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Uruguay," he said. "I love when they come to Israel to see us."
Ram grew up in Jerusalem and at age 14 was invited to study at the Wingate Institute, Israel's National Center for Physical Education and Sport, near Netanya. Ram stayed at Wingate until age 18, when he entered the Israeli army.
"They treated me and the other athletes like special sportsmen, and we were allowed to play tennis and travel, even during our army service," he said.
Ram enjoys the company of other Israeli players on tour, such as Harel Levy, Noam Okun and Amir Haddad.
"I've never had a problem" on the tour being Jewish or Israeli," Ram said.
Both Ram and Erlich enjoy the reception they receive from Jewish communities around the world. "We always receive a warm welcome -- people are supportive and fly flags of Israel everywhere we go," they said.
The team is a model of good communication: While Ram and Erlich shout on-court commands to each other in Hebrew, they both grew up in bilingual Hebrew-Spanish homes and also are comfortable in English.
Erlich was born in Buenos Aires and moved to Israel when he was 1. He grew up in Haifa and moved to the Wingate Institute at age 15.
In mid-June, Ram and Erlich won the Nottingham Open in England, considered the major warm-up to Wimbledon. They entered Wimbledon seeded 15th, advancing to the third round before losing again to the Bryans.
The pair spent July playing with the St. Louis Aces of the World Team Tennis league. Dani Apted, the team's general manager, praised Erlich as a "fantastic mentor" to a younger team member, adding that he "kept the team level and focused in each of his matches."
Ram "directed his passion and became the drive that motivated the whole team to win," Apted said.
In late July, the Israeli duo finally beat the Bryan twins at the Merecedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles, before losing in the finals. They also lost in the finals of a Masters Series event in Montreal in August.
Thanks! I had followed them minimally but talked to them briefly in Montreal and Cinci. Funny in opposition to the article, I found Erlich more outgoing and Ram somewhat reticent Must be my warped sense of humor I guess
Anyway they were very nice and cordial. I started to watch a lot of doubles in Montreal and Cinci especially them and they have found a place in my heart so to speak :dance:
Another article about what they did after USO. Some repetition here:
Israeli doubles tennis players Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram demonstrated why they’re among the top 10 doubles partners in the world when they bested Daniel Nestor and Paul Beck 6-5 in an exhibition match in support of Israel Children’s Centers.
The exhibition game at York Racquets Tennis Club was organized by Beck, York Racquets’ tennis pro; board member David Granovsky (the writer’s husband); and club member Kevin Green, president of the Canada-Israel Children’s Centres.
The Israelis’ big serves and tough returns proved too much for Nestor and Beck. After the entertaining match, Erlich and Ram hit some balls with the children in attendance, clearly enjoying themselves.
Currently ranked 10th in the world, the Israelis came to Toronto from the U.S. Open, where they reached the quarterfinals before succumbing to Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe, 6-4, 6-2. Unfortunately, Erlich had contracted the flu the night before the match and his play was affected.
Ram reached the semi-finals at the Open with mixed doubles partner Dinara Safina of Russia, the younger sister of top 10 singles player Marat Safin. After playing in Toronto, Erlich and Ram returned to Israel for a few weeks before competing at the Davis Cup in Zimbabwe later this month.
“It is a great honour to represent Israel at the Davis Cup,” Ram said. “We want [the Israeli team] to stay in the top group. We are playing great at the moment. Hopefully the whole team will play well. We have good potential.”
Erlich and Ram, both émigrés to Israel from South America, began their tennis careers as youngsters at the Israel Children’s Centers. The centres are “the best thing that happened to us,” said Ram.
Erlich and Ram, who coach themselves, often return to the Israel Children’s Center at Ramat Hasharon to train and play with the kids. Growing up, Ram idolized Israeli tennis great Amos Mansdorf.
“We want to be top players and play our best. We hope that young kids will want to play like us one day,” said Erlich.
Erlich, 28, and Ram, 25, became good friends as teenagers playing tennis at the Wingate Institute near Tel Aviv.
In 2001, they decided to play together and found they connected well on the court. After winning several tournaments as a team, Ram was sidelined by injuries in 2002 and unable to play for the entire year. Back and knee surgery left him on crutches for three months struggling to walk, followed by a year-long recovery process.
Erlich and Ram reunited in June 2003 and burst onto the international tennis scene a month later at Wimbledon. On a whim, the pair decided to play the qualifying rounds and found themselves in the semifinals against defending doubles champions Jonas Bjorkman and Todd Woodbridge.
Though Erlich and Ram have yet to win a Grand Slam event, they have won major tournaments in Lyon and Rotterdam and they reached the finals at the Rogers Cup in Montreal and the Mercedes Benz Cup in Los Angeles earlier this summer.
Erlich and Ram are very aware of their role as representatives of Israel on the international stage.
“We are proud to be Israeli, [to be] Jewish. As Israelis we try to be the best ambassador that we can for the country. [We] try not to get political but focus on the bigger picture and talk about the people and the country,” Erlich said.
“We have never had difficulty because we are Israeli or Jewish. Everyone respects us on tour,” added Ram.
Erlich and Ram complement each other well both on and off the court. Erlich is more serious and reflective, while Ram is fun-loving and gregarious. Erlich’s sharp sense of humour brings out Ram’s infectious smile.
When asked why they play well together, Erlich explained that they have “great chemistry, [that is] very important for a doubles team to make it. It’s not easy to be together 24 hours a day, like in a marriage.”
“We were good friends before, outside of the court,” Ram added. “We can do everything well. When we’re on, we can beat every team in the world today. We are working on keeping our game consistent.”
Their biggest weapon in a match? “Andy’s smile,” Erlich joked.