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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Banned U.S. tennis player restarts career at Rogers Cup

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American Jewish tennis player Wayne Odesnik at the 2012 Rogers Cup [Vidal Keslassy photo]

American tennis player Wayne Odesnik will remember the Rogers Cup as his breakthrough tournament for 2012.

The 133rd-ranked Odesnik defeated Australian Marinko Matosevic 6-3, 6-3 and Teymuraz Gabashvilli of Russia 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(3) to go into the main draw before losing his opening-round match to Julien Benneteau of France 6-4, 6-4.

While this performance may not be particularly noteworthy, it was a significant breakthough for Odesnik, who was suspended from competing on the ATP men’s tennis circuit for being in posession of human growth hormone (HGH) in 2010. For Odesnik, the Rogers Cup was his first major tennis tournament in close to a year.

“It felt wonderful to focus on tennis and let go of the past. I had fans from Toronto watching my matches and pulling for me. That has not always been the case since I resumed my career, and I feel excited and happy about playing again,” he said after his loss to Benneteau.

Odesnik was charged with importing eight vials of HGH into Australia, where he had travelled to play in the 2010 Brisbane tournament. He pleaded guilty at a hearing by the International Tennis Federation anti-doping committee in March 2010. He was prohibited from entering tournaments for the next seven months and had to forfeit his ranking points and prize money ($90,000) for 2010.

At 25, Odesnik didn’t want to quit and chose to rebuild his promising career. He was reinstated to the men’s pro circuit in 2011. Odesnik competed in futures and challenger events (the minor leagues of pro tennis) in 2011 and won three singles titles to raise his rankings from 1,000 to be in the top 200 rankings by this past March.

Although Odesnik felt optimistic about returning to the form he showed when he had a career-high ranking of No. 77 (2009), many of his peers didn’t want to see him play at all.

“What [Odesnik] did was just plain cheating, and they should throw him out of tennis. He should never have been allowed to return,” American tennis star Andy Roddick said in 2010.

American player Donald Young felt that Odesnik should deserve credit for his achievements on the tennis circuit since returning from his suspension.

“I don’t want to comment on whether Wayne should be allowed to compete or not. He has done well in playing up to form, and since he is allowed to compete, he should be acknowledged for his success,” Young said after his Rogers Cup match in Toronto.

Odesnik feels that continuing to have good results on the court will make peers and fans alike think differently of him.

“I can’t comment on my suspension or anything about the case. But I will say that if the players think they really know what happened, just talk with me, investigate the issue and don’t assume. I feel like I’m having a chance again to play well and want to make the most of the opportunity.”

Born is Johannesburg, South Africa, Odesnik and his parents moved to Florida when he was three. He took up tennis lessons at Miami’s Jewish community centre at age six.

Because he learned to play through a JCC program, Odesnik is working on creating a foundation for promising Jewish players who may not be able to afford to go to expensive tennis academies to develop their game.

“I am fortunate that the JCC was there for me to continue to play tennis, so I’m eager to give back and help other Jewish tennis players achieve their dreams. A lot of people don’t have the money to go to the expensive tennis academies, so having a Jewish sports foundation would help. I don’t know yet when the foundation will begin, but I’m optimistic that I will have a lot of sponsors interesting in creating the foundation over the next year.”

Odesnik’s performance at the Rogers Cup will likely raise his ranking to 125 as he prepares to compete at the U.S. Open in September.

Two other Jewish players competing at the Rogers Cup, Americans Jesse Levine (who was born in Ottawa) and Michael Russell, lost their qualifying round matches.

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Raonic favoured minute of silence

Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic who played at the Rogers Cup and competed at the London Olympics, spoke out against the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision not to have a moment of silence for the Israeli Olympians who were murdered at the 1972 Munich Games.

“I am too young to remember them personally, but I know who they [the slain Israeli athletes] were and it was disappointing not to acknowledge them at the opening ceremony,” Raonic said after his Rogers Cup opening match.

Meanwhile, Canadian tennis great Lorne Main, who won what was then called the Canadian Open doubles title in 1951 and 1954, felt that American Jewish tennis great Dick Savitt, whom he competed against when Savitt won both Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 1951, was a victim of antisemitism when he was not selected to play in the Davis Cup for the United States in the 1951 final against Australia, which the Aussies won.

“Savitt was the best American player in his time and was snubbed by Davis Cup captain Frank Shields in favor of Ted Schroeder, who failed to win a match in the final. It was obvious to me, and the players of the era, that Savitt was not selected because he is Jewish,” Main said. Savitt retired from competitive tennis following his exclusion from the Davis Cup team.

Main, 82, was inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall Of Fame prior to the start of the men’s semifinal round. He’s the world senior champion for the over-80 age group.

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