Israel’s tennis great Shahar Pe’er advances in US Open

Shahar Pe’er in action: I go on court and I feel like I’m playing in Israel or something. It’s so much fun. (AP)Shahar Pe’er became the first Israeli woman tennis player to reach the US Open quarterfinals on Monday when …

Shahar Pe’er in action: I go on court and I feel like I’m playing in Israel or something. It’s so much fun. (AP)Shahar Pe’er became the first Israeli woman tennis player to reach the US Open quarterfinals on Monday when she won her fourth-round match against Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4, 6-1, before a capacity crowd in New York.

Seeded 18th, the 20-year-old Pe’er has been enjoying the best season of her career. She reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, losing in three sets to eventual champion Serena Williams. She made it to the fourth round of the French and the third round of Wimbledon, and the fourth round of the 2006 Open. She won three tournaments at lower levels of the WTA Tour last year.

“I go on court and I feel like I’m playing in Israel or something. It’s so much fun,” she told Newsday on Monday after the quarterfinal match in New York, referring to the vocal support she was receiving from fans in the crowd. Peer said she often sees Israeli flags in the stands at Flushing Meadows and hears shouts of encouragement in Hebrew.

Before her victory Monday, she had beaten Meilen Tu, Bethanie Mattek and Nicole Vaidisova in a strongly contested three-set match Saturday night. Vaidisova was the 13th seed and a difficult test for Peer. Her next match is against Anna Chakvetadze, a 6-1, 7-5 winner over Tamira Paszek.

“She’s a fighter who plays out every point,” Pe’er’s coach Jose Higueras said. “She can beat almost everybody on the planet when she’s playing her best.

Peer said it would be a “huge” accomplishment if she could beat Chakvetadze and become the first Israeli woman to make the semi-finals of a grand slam event. But, she told Reuters: “I have to not think about those things and just play my game and go out there and give everything I have.”

A resident of Maccabim, near Tel Aviv, Pe’er – win or lose – will return to Israel in October to complete her two-year army service. Through a special IDF program that facilitates the development of Israeli athletes, Pe’er is allowed to play and practice according to the tournament schedule.

Pe’er started her competitive tennis career at the age of six, and won her first title at the age of 12. In the Fall of 2001, Pe’er took first place in the Nike Junior Tour International Masters tennis tournament in the Bahamas, and soon became the youngest Israeli tennis player ever to win the Israeli women’s tennis championship.

Pe’er’s first major accomplishment came in the 2004 Australian Open, where she won the juniors’ championship, beating Nicole Vaidisová 6-1, 6-4, in the final.

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