Jewish tennis players served up a strong presence at this summer's Los Angeles-based pro tournaments, with Israelis Harel Levy, Noam Okun and Anna Smashnova participating in recent Southland competitions.
Levy, who lost to American Toby Ginepri in the first round, and Okun played in the 76th Annual Mercedes-Benz Cup held at UCLA's Los Angeles Tennis Center held July 20-28. Levy, 24, ranked the No. 1 Israeli player in 2000 and 2001, smiles when he's told that younger Jewish players look up to him. "It's nice to hear that. I want to represent Israel and the Jewish people the best I can," said Levy, who served three years in the Israeli army. "I play for myself first. But then whatever my play can do for the Jewish community is great -- just great."
Smashnova, who has ranked as high as 17th in the world, is less comfortable in the Jewish spotlight. "I am not [a] practicing [Jew]," said Smashnova, 22, who lost to American Alexandra Stevenson in the first round of the JPMorgan Chase Open in Manhattan Beach held Aug. 4-11. "I'd rather talk about something else."
Born in Minsk, Smashnova moved to Herzelia, Israel, in 1990 with her family. Although she attended high school outside Tel Aviv and served two years in the Israeli service, she now spends most of her time in Italy. "I play for Israel. But I don't think much about what's happening there, especially when I'm on the court," she said.
But for Levy, who lives in Ramat-Hasharon, Israel, its current political situation is never far from his mind. "I am always worried about my friends and family and girlfriend, who are all there," Levy said. "But I try to focus on and enjoy what I have to do on the court. Because one thing I've learned from all this is that you have to enjoy life when you can. You never know what's going to happen." -- Carin Davis, Contributing Writer