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Israeli star leaves mark on U.S. Open

By Andrew Gluck

Section: Sports

September 21, 2007

Justine Henin may have taken home the hardware, her second United States Open title (and seventh career Grand Slam title);

however, it was Israeli phenom Shahar Peer who felt the most at home at the U.S. Open this September. If you dont know who she is: read on. If you do know who she is: read on.

Because the U.S. Open is played in Flushing Meadows in Queens, it is close in proximity to many hubbubs of local Jewish and Israel life. The blue and white of the Israeli flag was flown high and flown often at Peers matches. Peer opined that she is bolstered by these sightings, and is also encouraged by cheers that sometimes even come in her native Hebrew.

“I go on the court and I feel like I'm playing in Israel,” she said, during a Sept. 3 press conference. “It's so much fun. It's really nice to play when you have so much support.”

The U.S. Open was the second time this year that she has reached the quarterfinals in a major. Unfortunately, as in the Australian Open, Peer lost before she could make history. She is still hoping to become the first Israeli woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal. (Peer advanced to the fourth round on the red clay of Rolland Garros, and reached the third on the grass of Wimbledon.)

In her quarterfinal match against Anna Chakvetadze, Peer jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the first set. Chakvetadze fought back and won 10 of the next 11 games to win the match 6-4, 6-1 and extinguish Peers chances.

Currently ranked 19th on tour, and even ranked as high as 15th, Peer has been unable to make the breakthrough to the upper echelon of the womens game. Critics of Peer often cite her drama queen attitude as the reason for this failure. Although the potential is definitely there, (Peer is undoubtedly the best Israeli woman tennis player ever) her overemotionalism constantly limits her capabilities.

Not impressed by her athletic prowess? What about her sense of national pride? At the age of 19, despite a possible exoneration, Peer enlisted in the Israeli army, in a program for athletes that allows her to complete her duty in two years while traveling internationally. She continues to serve her perfunctory military service as an administrative secretary while not competing abroad. Even under the bright lights of fame and intense media scrutiny, Peers sense of duty towards her country is remarkable. Asked about her service obligations during a Sept. 5 press conference, she replied, And I think for me it was really important to give as much as I can to the country because I get so much support.

Has Peer hit her peak or is she a future Grand Slam champion? Peer was playing her worst stretch of tennis in the months leading up to the U.S. Open, that she was plagued by several lingering injuries, and yet she still made it to the quarterfinals. However, she still will probably never win a Grand Slam event unless she improves upon her psychological fortitude. Who knows? Its feasible that her army assignment could help with that facet of her game.

As for Peers opinion on her abilities: “I hope I will keep playing better.” So do we Shahar, so do we.

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