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Sunday, October 26, 2014

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Levy looks back at satisfying tennis career

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Harel Levy

Between three years of military service and almost two years lost to knee and hip surgeries, Harel Levy missed out on a good portion of what should have been the prime of his professional tennis career.

Still, the smiling 34-year-old sitting in the lobby of the York Racquets tennis club in Toronto recently hardly looked cheated. Participating alongside tennis greats such as Brad Gilbert, Daniel Nestor and Dean Goldfine at the 2012 MDC Partners Invitational Tennis Pro-Am in support of the Israel Tennis Centres, Levy made it clear that he is a man without regrets.

“I feel incredibly blessed to have had the career that I did,” says Levy, who once ranked No. 30 in the world. “I’m very proud to have represented Israel, both in the military and as a Davis Cup competitor. I played for 14 years [from 1995 to 2009 as a full-time competitor] with some great wins and great memories.”

One of the biggest among those memories came in Toronto in 2000, where Levy reached the final of the Masters Series event now known as the Rogers Cup. Ranked No. 144 in the world, the Ramat Hasharon resident broke through qualifying rounds and pushed through five rounds against higher-ranked opposition – including then-world No. 27 Sebastien Grosjean – before falling to Marat Safin in the final.

For Levy, the week was made even more significant just hours after the final, when he was notified that he had officially completed his military service.

“That week was amazing for so many reasons,” recalls Levy. “The support I got from the Toronto fans, the experience of getting to a Masters [Series] final and then, getting the call from the IDF to thank me for my service. It definitely stands out as a major highlight of my career.”

The support he enjoyed in Toronto was not entirely unique. Levy believes that being Israeli actually helped him connect with fans and get tennis crowds behind him.

“There are a lot of Jewish tennis fans out there, especially in North America. It meant a lot to know that they were behind me and supporting me at events,” said Levy. “I would normally be playing on smaller courts, so I could always hear them and could get energy from them.”

Levy might not have collected much hardware over his career (his lone ATP title came in doubles alongside Jonathan Erlich at the 2000 Newport grass event), but the 2000 Masters Series final appearance is hardly his only highlight. He owns victories over legends of the sport like Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick and Michael Chang and boasts a respectable 23-20 record over 11 years representing Israel in the Davis Cup.

The 2001 win over Roddick in the Nottingham semifinals served as both a highlight and lowlight for Levy. On one hand, it moved him into his second career ATP final (he would lose to Thomas Johansson). On the other hand, a mid-match slip-up on the grass eventually led to right hip surgery later in the year that kept him on the shelf for over six months.

Now, after all of his highs and lows, triumphs and injuries, Levy is ready to look ahead to life after competitive tennis.

He is currently studying economics and management in Israel in order to pursue future business opportunities, as well as continuing to have an informal advisory role within the Israel Tennis Association and helping out with the country’s Davis Cup squad, which is headed to the World Group after recently defeating Japan to qualify.

“Getting back into the [World Group] is a very important accomplishment for us, but there’s a pretty big hole right now, at least when it comes to high performance tennis,” Levy admitted. “We’ve got to focus on building elite level players, starting with a few young players we have now with a lot of potential.”

Even with injuries and military service playing a role, Levy was able to squeeze a great deal out of a 14-year tennis career. Now, it’s time to help others achieve a similar level of success.

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