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Articles > Israelis Ram and Erlich make early exit at Sony Ericsson Open

Miami, Florida, March 31, 2008 - One and done. It’s what every basketball team that has worked hard to get into the NCAA “Big Dance” wants to avoid. If you’re a high seed, the disappointment can be even greater. So when the #3-seeded Israeli men’s tennis doubles team of Andy Ram and Jonathan (Yoni) Erlich got bounced out in the first round of play at the Sony Ericsson Open, there was no naches. If there was any consolation, it might be this – unlike the basketball teams that have to wait till next year, in tennis there is always another competition just a couple of weeks away.

On the weekend that all four #1 seeds secured their place at the 2008 Men’s Basketball Final Four, Ram and Erlich fell to the Brazilian pair of Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa, 6-7 (5-7), 4-6.

Buoyed on by an exuberant group of supporters in the stands, the Brazilian duo played a more aggressive game, keeping the Israelis too often on the defensive. After losing the first set (matching point for point in the tiebreaker to 5-5, then losing the next two points), the Israelis broke serve first in the second set to pull ahead 3-1. Leading 4-3, Erlich double-faulted at game point in the next game to open the door to a comeback by the Brazilian pair, who won the next two games to take the match.

“This is very disappointing,” commented Ram after the loss. “Here we are, in great shape physically, highly ranked so far this season, and this being our first time this year to be ousted in the first round. It’s really disappointing. It’s frustrating. But you go on.”

The up-tempo style of the Brazilian players was match by the cheers coming from the stands. “Their fans really cheered them on,” noted Erlich. The support of the numerous Jewish fans seemed more restrained, mostly the waving of small plastic Israeli flags.

When asked what they could take away from the loss, Andy replied, “To just keep on working hard.” Added Yoni, “You can do everything within your control, and still on any given day it can go either way.”

Nevertheless, the pair are no strangers to victory, having written a chapter in the annals of Israeli sport when they became the first Israelis to win a Grand Slam Event by winning the doubles competition at the 2008 Australian Open. Ram, who had previously won two mixed-doubles Grand Slam events with partner Vera Zvonareva, commented at the time, “That’s not even close to what I’m feeling at this moment… It’s a great day for us, for our families, for Israel.”

The pair won the Australian Open without dropping a single set. “We played every point as if it was a match point in the final,” noted Ram afterwards. “We played every point without losing concentration, without losing energy.”

He added, “When we returned home from Australia the press, everyone was awaiting our arrival at the airport. Later we were invited to Beit HaNasi (the residence of the President), got a call from Prime Minister Olmert, and basically everyone felt like they were a part of our success.” Continued Erlich, “For us the excitement was greater even than at the moment when we won the event.”

Ram noted that, “At the beginning, playing in Israel, you are playing for yourself. When you first start to play in tournaments abroad, you start to feel the sense of representing Israel, of a feeling of belonging to the Jewish people. When you are on the international stage you feel like you are representing your country. When you are asked questions you always have a sense of explaining about Israel, about representing it.”

With their sense of Israeli and Jewish pride, Ram and Erlich have taken their game up off the court as well. After the U.S. Open last August, they announced the creation of a foundation designed to give back to the Jewish community by supporting greater involvement by young Jews in higher levels of competitive sports.

Andy Ram explained, “In general American Jews donate to Israel, and support Israel. Since we are over here in the States so much, we wanted to do something for American Jews. It’s just something that the two of us came up with. In general, we don’t come across many American Jewish athletes, and often there is the stereotype that Jews go out and become doctors or accountants or whatever, but not athletes. One of the things we are interested in doing is helping Jews who want to become elite or professional athletes, and maybe need some financial help.”

The pair will soon be off to Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg before their next Grand Slam event at Wimbledon in June. As part of Israel’s Davis Cup team, they will also see action in early April, having already secured a place in the 2008 World Group with a five-set victory over Chile last year.

In other action, Shahar Pe’er (currently ranked #19 among female players) advanced to third-round play at the Sony Ericsson, as did #60-ranked Dudi Sela.

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