In the middle of the second set of the women's final, Julia Glushko demonstrated in one rally that she was no longer content with almost winning the local title. She was aggressive, forced the reigning champion, Shahar Peer to run from side to side, and finished it off with a winner that would have made Serena Williams proud. It was her day, and she made absolutely sure that the world number 37 would have no doubt about it.

An hour earlier, the Ra'anana Tennis Center made sure that Glushko's day would be, at worst, respectable. Enormous tennis balls were hung from the surrounding trees, blue and white helium balloons underlined the festive occasion, as well as snack bars, tennis equipment for sale and other attractions: A special machine that allowed the fans to try to serve stronger than Amir Weintraub's 185 kilometers per hour. The fans filled the stands, pleased with the free tickets.

"You get it?", said one tennis fan to his family, "the Israeli final, and we get front-row tickets for free! In any other country we would be paying a scalper an arm and a leg for a ticket."

After the players' presentations, which was as grandiose as Maccabi Tel Aviv at Yad Eliahu on a European night, the real show began. After two breaks, Glushko led Peer 3-0 - but it was much more than the score. Glushko, ranked 206 in the world by the WTA, was sharp and accurate, and won every significant rally including a few points taken crouching on one knee - the sort of shots that swerved all the neutral spectators in favor of the underdog.

When Peer came back to 3-4 it seemed for a moment that Glushko's past vices - mental weakness and loss of concentration - came back to haunt her when she stared at the linesman after a dubious call. But then she snapped right back, and suddenly the traditional roles were reversed. Peer was the one looking edgy, taking her frustration out on the commercial boards and a child who stood next to the court. Glushko duly won the first set 6-3, hinting that the era of respectable losses might be over.

Peer was aggressive in the beginning of the second set and led 3-1, but it just wasn't her day. Glushko broke back twice, and led 5-3 serving for the title. Peer managed to break back, and again the old doubts resurfaced. Still, the last game told the tale of the match: One player hit every ball hoping for a winner, while the other played not to lose.

When Glushko wrapped it up at 6-4, one of the spectators called it a "Hanukkah miracle", a phrase which does Glushko a great injustice, since she was truly imperious.

"It's really great, I thought I'd weep with happiness, but that hasn't happened yet," the new champion said. "I trained intensively for this week. It fills me with self confidence and I hope it will continue like this all year. I'm surprised that I won in two straight sets, but I believed I could win."

Peer, who found herself on the losing side after five consecutive titles, was not too upset: "I wasn't aggressive and stable throughout the game. No big deal. The Israeli Championships are important, but I have other, more important, goals," she said.

Anticlimax

The men's finals, in comparison, was an anticlimax. Dudi Sela, who lost last year to Amir Weintraub, appeared like a man with a mission and Weintraub hardly found his feet, despite the support of his fans and several decisions that went his way.

Sela broke his opponent in the first game and easily breezed to 6-2 in less than half an hour, a shot between his legs being the talking point of the first set. In the second Weintraub climed his way back to 5-5, but Sela was cool enough to finish the set off, 7-5.

"Dudi is an unbelievable player, " said the magnanimous loser after the game. "I really didn't play well enough, and now I have to think about [the] Australia [n Open]. I have to advance up the rankings this year and really try to do something in the prestigious tournaments."

Sela, meanwhile, signed autographs for the many children who seem to adore him. "I played much better than last year, and Amir wasn't as good," he said. "It gives me some confidence, but it's not that much of a boost. After all, it's only the Israeli Championship - no more, no less."