Shahar Pe’er, the highest ranked professional tennis player, male or female, in Israel’s history is born in Jerusalem. She begins playing tennis at age six, joining her older brother and sister with lessons. Pe’er excels in Israeli and junior tournaments, winning the 2001 Israeli championship at the age of fourteen and the 2004 Junior Australian Open. She achieves her highest world ranking, number eleven, in 2011.
A five-time singles champion on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour, Pe’er joins the IDF on October 30, 2005 in front of a large throng of press and onlookers. In the IDF, Pe’er receives “outstanding athlete” status, which allows her to continue training and competing in a select number of tournaments. Upon her enlistment, she comments, “I’ll serve two years like everyone and I hope to enjoy the experience…I meet a lot of people all the time traveling abroad, but the army is something different… I’m very excited to meet new girls and get out of my bubble and I believe that in the end I’ll have fun.”
She is awarded Athlete of the Year in Israel (2006, 2007); Kids’ Favorite Athlete of the Year in Israel (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009); Woman of the Year in Press (2009); and Key Person in Media at the ceremony of Israeli Organization of Public Relations and Spokespersons.
The WTA responds swiftly, fining the tournament’s organizers a then-record $300,000 to remain on the tour and requiring written notification that Pe’er will be allowed to compete in the following year’s tournament. The defending Dubai men’s champion, American Andy Roddick withdraws from the tournament in protest. The following week Israeli doubles player, Andy Ram is granted a visa to compete in the men’s tournament at Dubai. Pe’er competes in Dubai the following year and is assigned a special security detail.
Pe’er twice reaches a Grand Slam quarterfinal in singles and appears in the doubles final of the 2008 Australian Open. In an interview given in the summer of 2014 she discusses how it feels to represent Israel on the global sporting stage, “I think I always feel they’re behind me, since the first day of my career, I think what is very strong in our nation of Israel is that when things are going bad, we all support each other.”
The photo shows Shahar Pe’er competing at the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2011. Photo source: Michael Regan/Getty Images Europe)