For more than 10 years, Dudi Sela has been the most prominent tennis player from Israel and he usually stood alone in the rankings, with other competitors from this country struggling to enter the Top 200 or to score significant results on the ATP Tour.
That could all change in near future, with some very talented players born in 1995 or after, and the next leader of Israeli men's tennis is probably Yshai Oliel, a gifted left-hander born in January 2000 who won his first professional title at home Israel F18 Futures.
17-year-old from Ramla has been one of the most promising upcoming stars, winning Orange Bowl in B12 and B14 category and reaching the final of this year's junior Australian Open. Yshai launched his professional career 2 years ago and he competed mostly on the home Futures in Israel, advancing to a couple of semi-finals before he went all the way today, defeating Tom Jomby from France to lift his maiden trophy on the pro level.
Oliel became the 4th player born in 2000 who conquered the Futures title, after Felix Auger-Aliassime, Nicola Kuhn and Thiago Seyboth Wild, and these points will burst his ranking position just before the end of the season. Facing 3 compatriots and 2 Frenchmen, Yshai didn't drop a set the whole week and he dominated in 8 out of 10 sets to emerge as a deserved winner and achieve his biggest result so far in a career.
The first round brought the easiest obstacle, passing the coeval Oz Daniel by 6-2 6-0 in 49 minutes, dropping just 9 points on serve and never facing a break point. On the other hand, he was all over Daniel in return games, creating 7 break chances and converting 5 to control the scoreboard from start to finish.
Yshai raced into a 5-1 lead with breaks in games 3 and 5 and he closed the opener in game 8. The second set was even more one-sided, Daniel won just 8 points in total and he failed to win at least a game, sending Oliel to round 2 without spending too much energy.
On Wednesday, young Israeli faced another player born in 2000, French qualifier Antoine Cornut Chauvinc, and he has beaten him by 6-3 6-4 in an hour and 23 minutes for the place in the last 8. This time he had to work harder and to fend off 4 break points, keeping his serve intact for the second match in a row and forcing his opponent to do the same.
Antoine was unable to follow that pace, struggling to find the rhythm with his second serve, and he got broken twice from 6 chances he gave to Oliel to end on the losing side. The first set was decided in the 6th game when Yshai opened a 4-2 gap, and he scored a decisive break of serve in the third game of set number 2 to stay in front in the remaining games and seal the victory in straight sets.
The top seed and another promising youngster from Israel, Igor Smilansky, awaited in the quarters and Oliel took him down by 7-6 6-3 in 84 minutes to book his place in the semis. Igor had troubles to find his first serve and Oliel made the difference with his first serve return, creating 5 break opportunities and converting 2.
He lost his serve twice but that didn't cost him much, closing another match in less than an hour and a half and avoiding additional time spent on the court. They traded breaks right at the start of the match and Smilansky got another one in game 4 to move 4-1 ahead.
Yshai pulled the break back in game 7 and it was a game changer, as he served well in the rest of the set to take the tie break by 7-1. With the momentum on his side, Oliel stormed over his service games in set number 2 and he converted his lone break chance in game 4 to create the lead that was enough to push him over the finish line.
Alon Elia stood between Yshai and the place in the final and the 5th seed scored a commanding 6-1 6-4 victory in an hour and 23 minutes. Oliel didn't play well on his serve like in previous 3 matches, offering his rival 6 break points and suffering 3 breaks, but his return worked like a charm, winning more than 60% of the points in Elia's games and breaking him 6 times from 10 opportunities.
It was all about Yshai in the opening set, claiming 3 breaks of serve for a commanding 6-1, but he found himself 3-0 down in set number 2 after an early break from Alon. Yshai got back on level terms with a break in game 5 but he moved in front with another break in game 7, rattling off 4 straight games.
Elia made one final push in order to prolong the match, breaking back in game 8 to level the score at 4-4 but his serve was just not there to support him. Oliel broke him for the third time in a row in game 9 and he wrapped up a win in the following game on own serve for his first Futures final.
There, he faced the 6th seed Tom Jomby and the Frenchman fell by 7-6 6-2 thanks to a perfect break point realization from the young Israeli. Jomby had 5 break points but he converted just 2, and his second serve was under a constant pressure from Yshai who seized all 4 break opportunities he earned to notch straight sets win and celebrate his first title on pro level.
More experienced Frenchman had an early initiative, breaking in game 2 and opening a 4-1 advantage, also serving for the set at 5-3. Oliel pulled the break back in the very last moment and he won the tie break by 8-6 to steal the opener and the momentum.
Tom couldn't stay in touch for too long in set number 2 and Yshai cruised towards the finish line with a double break, lifting his first Futures crown on home soil and finishing the season in the best possible way. Oliel's road towards the title: