Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might want to think about putting Yishai Oliel’s cellphone number on speed dial. At the rate the 13-year-old tennis player is going, there could be many congratulatory phone calls in the future.
Last year, at age 12, Oliel came from nowhere to win the Jr. Orange Bowl International 12-under championship. Shortly after the match, he received a phone call from Netanyahu, who told him, “You are a true champion. You brought honor to the State of Israel and pride to your parents.”
He and other selected youth later got to spend a day with the prime minister.
Oliel, a lefty known for his long flowing hair, is back in town this week for the Jr. Orange Bowl 14s. He is trying to become the first player in four decades to win the Boys’ 14-under one year after winning the 12s. He got one step closer Friday by advancing to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) win against Toru Horu of Japan. Oliel has yet to drop a set this week.
Only three boys have won back-to-back Jr. Orange Bowl titles in the 12s and 14s. The last was Van Winitsky in 1971-72. Billy Martin (1968-69) and Richard Stockton (1963-64) were the others.
Oliel said the chance at history “gives me more motivation to win this tournament, but it’s very difficult because everyone is very good in this level.”
He is the only Israeli boy Orange Bowl champion. Shahar Peer, who went on to make it big on the WTA Tour, won the Girls’ 14s in 2001.
While in Miami, Oliel and his coach, Jan Pochter, are staying at home of Jeff Kravetz, a local Jewish tennis fan whose family hosts Israeli players during the tournament. Oliel said every time he comes to Miami he gets big support from the local Jewish community, and he is grateful to the Kravetzes for opening up their home.
Oliel will take on Axel Geller of Argentina in the quarterfinals. Geller came through the qualifying rounds and is playing in his first Orange Bowl tournament. Geller’s younger sister, Ana, was also playing, but lost to American Natasha Subhash on Friday in the Round of 16 of the 12s. Geller played the American Cup the week before the Jr. Orange Bowl, so he has had matches every day for nearly two weeks. He said he isn’t tired.
“I felt tired early in the week, but I had some easy matches the first few rounds, so that gave me a lot of confidence,” Geller said. “I’m really happy to be in the quarters.”
Other boys advancing to the 14s quarterfinals are: Alexei Popyrin of Australia, Kyrylo Tsygura of the United States, Max Stewart of Great Britain and Alex DeMinaur of Australia.
In the Girls’ 14s, Kayla Day and Ashley Lahey of California both advanced to the quarterfinals, as did Abigail Desiatnikov of Ohio, who won the 12s last year at age 11.
Hurricane Tyra Black of Boca Raton continued her roll through the Girls’ 12s with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Sophia Edwards of Sarasota. Black has lost only four games in four matches.
In the Boys’ 12s, Adam Neff of Bradenton outlasted Chun Hsin Tseng of Taiwan 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 6-4. Americans Cannon Kingsley and Brandon Nakashima also moved on to the quarters.
The tournament continues through Monday.