There's no need to kick Israel's national soccer team to heap praise on its national tennis squad. Amir Weintraub doesn't need Ben Shahar, Dudi Sela doesn't need Yoav Ziv, and Yoni Erlich and Andy Ram don't need Eden Ben Basat and Yuval Spungin to feel good about what they did in Tokyo this weekend.
The team's showing in Japan was one of the most beautiful things Israeli sports fans have ever witnessed. It was pure beauty, free of anything that would mar the aesthetic experience.
From early Friday morning Israel time through Sunday afternoon, it was nearly impossible to take your eyes off the television because true athletes were running back and forth across the screen. The Israelis played far above their world rankings - 102 for Sela and 214 for Weintraub. They showed supreme will to go with their talent. The Israelis shone in the way they worked together in a sport known for its individuality.
Other elements that regularly ruin soccer were absent. There were no uncultured fans to cause a distraction between points and detract from the joy of victory. There were no Israeli reporters to change the focus from tennis to relationships - who's not talking to whom, who's angry at whom, who's friends with whom.
Thus was born a rare moment of pure sport free of distractions. It was so far away - in Japan - that we couldn't bring it down or chop it into little pieces of sports gossip. Four athletes turned the chance into a triumphant sports moment, and they refused to leave. Even when they lost, they basically won (Sela ), and when they won, it was always with beads of sweat on the tennis balls. It was a victory of mind over matter.
The mind prevailed because matter can't win alone. In Israel, matter is always the victim. Take Weintraub, for example. The gap between the number 214 and everything it symbolizes in world tennis - a marginal player - and his victory over 67th-ranked Tatsuma Ito and 53rd-ranked Go Soeda is precisely the gap between what Israel has and what it doesn't have.
What it doesn't have is an established sports infrastructure that supports its players and guarantees the long-term success of a sports culture. What is has is available everywhere: talent. Weintraub is the result: a talent bound to fail.
He will forever get up and fall back down. He will get his picture in the paper after a big Davis Cup win. He will get a line in the press after a loss in Tashkent. In practice, Dudi Sela, AndYoni, Harel Levi, Noam Okun, Shahar Peer, Julia Glushko and Tzipi Obziler are products of the same system: talents who are forced to get by on their own and more often than not don't get by.
The greatness of Israel's Davis Cup victory derives from this loneliness of Israeli athletes. It's just like Israel's gymnasts (like Alex Shatilov ), swimmers (Yakov Toumarkin, Gal Nevo, Amit Ivry ) and windsurfers (Gal Fridman, Shahar Zubari, Lee Korzits ).
At the base of Israel's tennis achievements is the covenant that people who have undergone the same troubles and pains strike among themselves. It's a covenant of orphans with no parents or country. So the victories are always despite the system, not because of it. They are victories of sadness, not joy. The prime minister phones to congratulate, but he's really saying good for you for winning without us.
From Friday to Sunday it was nearly impossible to take our eyes off the TV. For three days, we watched what could happen here one day.
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