This article first appeared in the CUFI UK Torch Magazine. For the latest issue, see here.

In October 2022, Israel hosted the Tel Aviv Open, the first major tennis tournament to be held in the country for over ten years. It was a time for Israel’s tennis fans to see their heroes and for the tennis players to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of Israel.

The biggest star to travel to Israel was Novak Djokovic who went on to win the tournament, beating Marin Cilic in the final 6-3, 6-4, to add the Tel Aviv trophy to the Rome and Wimbledon championships for this year.

In Israel, Djokovic spoke positively about the country, telling of the friendly welcome he received and how many Israelis had greeted him on the streets. 

As can be expected, the anti-Israel activists of this world were out in force calling for him to cancel his plans to travel to Israel. Djokovic noted the noise, saying he had been called all sorts of unkind things, but he said that criticism is “just part of what they do.”

The tennis champion made it clear: “If I choose to play in a tournament, there is a reason why I’m choosing that,” he said. “I am happy that I’m here and it was a very good decision.”

He also mentioned how there was a good friendship between Israel and his home country Serbia, and he felt support from the fans when he was on the court. Serbia is one of the few countries to have opened a trade office in Jerusalem.

Djokovic is no stranger to Israel. He played his first tournament in the country in 2005. He also visited as a tourist in 2008, visiting historic sites in Jerusalem as well as Tel Aviv.

Speaking of Jerusalem, Djokovic said “the city has changed” since his last visit, “but the energy is the same.” He added that Israelis remain very passionate.

We have no doubt that Novak Djokovic will be more than welcome to return to Israel in the future. The Serbian left a very good impression on Israelis, and it seems they left a good impression on him also. It is important that sporting tournaments like this inspire younger generations of Israelis to try their hand at sport. We look forward to hearing about future major events in Israel.

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