Jonathan “Yoni” Erlich found his footing again Wednesday at the Los Angeles Tennis Open, after the emotional high of clinching Israel’s huge upset of Russia in Davis Cup competition.
Partnering with Jeff Coetzee of South Africa, Erlich beat Czech player Martin Damm and Robert Lindstedt of Sweden to advance to the second round.
The game, under a blistering sun, was sparsely attended, but a small rooting section encouraged the Israeli with shouts of “Yoni, Yoni.”
Dudi Sela, Israel’s other participant, playing with Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, was earlier eliminated in doubles by Russians Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn, but remains in the singles draw, where he is seeded fourth.
Before coming to Los Angeles. both Israelis were eliminated early on in the Indianapolis tournament.
In a post-game interview, Erlich said that the Israeli side let down a bit after the Davis Cup triumph over Russia, but will be ready to face Spain on its homegrounds Sept. 18-20.
At this time, it is uncertain whether Spanish star Rafael Nadal will be fit to play, but even without him, Israel will have to pull off another miracle to beat the top-ranked Spaniards.
“Israel has made great strides, but we’re still struggling to find good players,” Erlich said.
Erlich, 32, was born in Buenos Aires, but his parents made aliyah when he was one year old. He got his first lessons in the game at the Israel Tennis Center, founded and underwritten by American supporters.
These days, he plays in 25-30 tournaments a year, which doesn’t give him much time at home with his wife and one-year old son.
He is encouraged by the growing popularity of tennis, which now ranks third among Israeli sports fans, following soccer and basketball.