Tennis / Davis Cup / It's Lonely in the Top 200

Amir Weintraub, Israel's youngest team member, spends most of his time in far flung places, trying to cover expenses.

Glickstein, Mansdorf, Perkiss, Bloom, Levy, Okun, Ram. Erlich, Sela. Many names have ridden the train of Israel's national tennis team over the past three decades. Last year, Amir Weintraub joined that illustrious list.

This afternoon, immediately after the match between Dudi Sela and Frederico Gil in Ramat Hasharon, Weintraub will take the court against Rui Machado for the second match between Israel and Portugal.

Amir Weintrab
Nir Keidar

Weintraub, Israel's number two single's player, is already used to this situation. In the last two ties in which he participated, Weintraub played second - and won. The high point, of course, came in September against Canada when despite the pressure following Sela's surprising loss in the first match, Weintraub upset Milos Raonic.

"In the first ties it was more important to me because I was new, but now it doesn't matter," Weintraub says of his secondary status.

It is remarkable Weintraub has made it this far after considering retirement a couple years back. He did not break out of anonymity until he was 24, when he won the Israel Championship in December 2010. Things have flown more smoothly since then. He soon landed the number-two spot on the men's team after the departure of Noam Okun and Harel Levy, and broke into the world's top 200.

While his stock continues to rise in Israeli tennis, he has struggled on the international level. Top 200 players spend more time in the small Challenger tournaments, often held in far-flung locations. Their hope lies in winning qualifiers for the Grand Slam tournaments.

Weintraub rose high enough to get into the qualifiers but has yet to reach the first round of any major tournament. This season, he did well in some small tournaments but was bounced from the first qualifying round of the Australian Open.

"Actually this year has gone well so far," says Weintraub, who is currently ranked 207th in the world. "I went far in the Challengers, and I need to make a leap forward."

Playing in the top 200 is mainly about survival, says Weintraub. "It's not easy playing in small tournaments," he says. "True there are surprises - like the year when I was in Singapore, a terrific place - but usually it's the middle of nowhere, and you basically try to cover your expenses. You look at the timetable and try to reach other Challengers that are in the same region. If there's a tournament in the United States and after that one in Asia, it's not worth going there. But, that's the route I chose. I love the game and want to win as much as possible."

Weintraub says feeling isolated can be a problem. When he's lonely, Weintraub says he checks out his website. "I get 3,000 hits a day, and there are a lot of comments on Facebook, too, by people who follow me and are my fans," he says. "It gives a lot of strength to carry on."

In order to prepare for the tie with Portugal, Weintraub returned to Israel and played in the Futures tournament. He said he doesn't have much to find in such tournaments, which are even more marginal than the Challengers, but he doesn't have enough practice partners in Israel, so the games were a good warmup for the Davis Cup.

"I'm not really familiar with the Portuguese," he says of his Davis rivals. "I've played against them, but I don't remember them. Sela helped me and I also saw some video of them."

Weintraub says the significance of representing his country affects him. "I told Yoni Erlich this is my third Davis Cup and I still get butterflies," he says. Erlich responded that this is his 30th Davis Cup and he, too, still gets excited, according to Weintraub.

Weintraub says he plans to stay with the Davis Cup for years to come. "The tennis player after me is ranked around 900th in the world, and who knows what will come of the 16-year-olds," he remarks about a prospective replacement.

The winner of this weekend's tie in Europe/Africa Group 1 will advance to the playoffs, where that squad will compete in September to return to the World Group. The match between Sela and Gil is scheduled for 10:30 A.M., with the intention that Weintraub's match will end in time for the Passover Seder.

About 3,000 tickets have been sold, and an Israel Tennis Association representative said they were hoping to fill Canada Stadium.