They come from South America, they live in Israel and they made history in Australia.
Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, Israel’s top men’s doubles team since they met at the Wingate Institute in the 1990s and competed at the highest levels of international tennis, won the doubles title at the Australian Open last week.
Their victory marked the first Israeli championship in a Grand Slam tournament — Ram had twice shared a Grand Slam mixed doubles title with a woman from another country.
“We’re so happy to be the first Israelis. The happiness today is not even close” to what he had experienced as a mixed doubles champion, said Ram, who was born in Uruguay. “We’re like brothers,” he said of Erlich.
The two act as athletic ambassadors abroad, said Erlich, a native of Argentina. “This is one of our purposes on the tour. I dreamed about this moment.”
After their victory over two French players, in front of flag-waving fans, top right, they celebrated on the Melbourne court, right. Ram is on Erlich’s shoulders.
Back in Israel a crowd that included Israeli athletic officials and a cabinet minister greeted them at the airport.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had trouble contacting the players to congratulate them. “He left a message for us to call him back — he couldn’t reach us,” Ram said.
He and Erlich don’t have much time to rest on their laurels — Davis Cup competition against Sweden starts on Feb. 8.