Guest blog written by one of our “on-the-ground” reporters and bloggers, Logan Schiciano.

Whether it was a powerful serve, a dazzling down-the-line winner or a perfectly placed drop-shot, the Juniors tennis players were out in full force in early round play at the 15th European Maccabi Games. The matches took place at Park Tennis Club in Budapest, Hungary on Wed., July 31. Three of the four juniors on the team were in action, a couple playing in their first match of the Games. Eli Greenberg from New York had the day off to support the team and help them warm-up. 

The first contest was a two and one-half hour slugfest between USA’s Aviva Diamond and South Africa’s Gia Fine that saw Gia come out on top by a score of 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 10-8

Gia got off to a hot start by taking advantage of some early unforced errors by Aviva. Aviva, who calls Orlando, FL her home, went down 3-1, her family and Coach Lonnie Mitchell, brought up the fact that she appeared tense and was playing quite conservatively. She later agreed with their evaluation noting that, “[she] was pretty nervous and had never played on red clay before.” Red clay is the primary surface used on the tennis courts throughout Europe but seldom in the United States.

Despite the initial deficit, Aviva was able to make up some ground when she broke Gia’s serve. This led her to victory at the sixth game with a volley winner and evening the matchup at three games apiece.

The opening set was tight all the way through, but Aviva was faced with a set point, trailing 5-6 with the game score at 30-40. Although this game was challenging, she did not waste much time bringing it back as she wailed a cross-court serve-return past Gia, to knot the game at deuce. Aviva would go on to break serve and send the first set to a tiebreak. 

Another neck and neck affair, the tiebreak got to 5-6 in favor of South Africa. A lengthy rally ensued during which Aviva was controlling the point, pinning Gia deep behind the baseline. It looked as if maybe she got a ball past Gia, when the Johanasburg native lunged and flicked the ball high over the outstretched racquet of Aviva, who was up at net. When the ball fell just inside the baseline, she had won the set.

The second set began similarly to the first, with Gia – who is the youngest member of her country’s delegation at 12 years old – racing out to a 4-2 lead. At this point, Aviva changed her mindset, “I looked at Coach Lonnie who was watching and he motivated me to focus on playing one point at a time.” Several points later, Aviva had not only brought the match back, but was on the verge of winning four games in a row and the set. When Gia juiced a volley just wide she was able to do just that, turning to her supporters and yelling “Let’s go!” as she walked back to her chair with a 6-4 second set victory. 

The match then went into a 10-point super-tiebreak which similar to the match as a whole, was a nail biter. Aviva had the finish-line in sight when she took a 7-5 lead after fighting off a hard shot from Gia with a backhand volley winner. Aviva, who came to the net at crucial times throughout the match, explained why she doesn’t hesitate to rely on net-play to win points. “I’ve always loved catching the ball on the rise and putting the volley away,” she said.

Momentum would shift at that point though as Aviva gave away a few points with unforced errors. Gia was now the one who fought from behind to grab a 9-7 lead and a chance at match point. After Aviva survived to play another, she made the decision to come forward once again, but punched her shot into the net and fell short by a score of 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 10-8. 

Aviva, who was disappointed with the result, still took a lot of positives away from her performance. “I didn’t play my best, but it was definitely a good start to the games. I think I can only improve from here,” she said.

Having moved on to the second round after an opening round win (6-3, 6-3) on Jul 30., rising high school junior, Ryan Shayani, was back in action on Wed. when he went against German athlete Ruben Bonfoglio. The match was brief, not only because Ryan won 6-0 but also because his opponent decided to “quit” following the first set. Ryan explained that Ruben approached him and told him that his body was tired before he walked off the court, conceding the match. 

Though the match didn’t play out as expected, Ryan was still proud of the way he played. “I was very intense and I wanted to win really bad. I made sure to move a lot so I didn’t let up at all. At the beginning, the games were very close, but I was able to win the big points. Ryan now advances to the quarterfinals. 

Dahlia Rappaport, the other female on the Juniors’ team opened her tournament against another German, Martha Wojciechowski. Though the result wasn’t what she was hoping for, as she fell in straight sets, she was still cheerful with regard to the broader Maccabi experience. “This is probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Everyone on the team is really nice and fun to hang out with!”

The team will continue to play in singles in the coming days while the doubles competition set to kick off on Thursday, August 1.