For many of the women in the main draw of the US Open, the path to the two-week tournament was straightforward. For Julia Glushko, an Israeli ranked 160th in the world, the road to her first-ever Grand Slam started many months ago — and ended triumphantly last week, with victories in three tough qualifying matches.
Once at the Open, the 22-year-old’s experience proved a bit of an anticlimax — the Ukrainian-born player put up a tough fight Monday, but lost 7-5, 6-2 in her first-round match against the No. 25 seed, Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.
Despite the disappointing result, Glushko views her participation as a reason for celebration, capping off an extraordinary year of growth for the Modiin resident. In December, Julia (pronounced “Yulia”) won the Israeli national title by defeating Shahar Pe’er, ending the latter’s five-year reign as champion. The victory kicked off a 2012 of tournaments around the world, including the biggest singles title of Glushko’s career: a July win at an International Tennis Federation tournament in Louisville, Ky.
“I pay for my travel, mostly from my prize money. This time, I raised enough money for my coach, Liran Kling, to come.”
Glushko’s US Open appearance was scheduled as the third match of the day, but due to a 2½ -hour rain delay, she didn’t set foot on the court until 7 p.m., when spectators were arriving for a night session featuring Kim Clijsters, Roger Federer and a music performance by “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks.
Wearing tennis whites and a bandage on her left knee, Glushko hit strongly off both her forehand and backhand. Even with her relatively low ranking, members of the crowd clearly knew who she was, chanting words of encouragement — “yallah” (let’s go) and “kadima” (come on) — familiar to any Israeli.
“I am so thankful that people came out—there were a lot of Jewish and Israeli people cheering for me,” said Glushko, who’s fluent in Hebrew, Russian and English.
Despite her loss, Glushko wasn’t disappointed. “It was a tough draw, but I think I did pretty well,” she reflected. “I was ready to play, [and] can learn a lot for the next time.”
Beyond her first Grand Slam experience — following a failed January attempt to qualify for the Australian Open — Glushko’s trip to New York also meant a chance to reunite with her former doubles partner, the Israeli-Arab player Nadine Fahoum. Now a development associate in New York for the Israel Tennis Center, Fahoum, who recently wrapped up her college career at Duke University, sees a promising future for her old partner.
“Qualifying for the US Open main draw is the first big step to becoming one of the top players in the world,” Fahoum said. “I wish her much success.”
But while Glushko, who ranked as high as No. 10 in the world as a junior, appears to be on her way, challenges lie ahead — particularly financial ones, as she makes clear on the homepage of her personal website.
Following her match, the 5-foot-7 player spoke with the Times of Israel. An condensed excerpt appears below.
What is it like representing Israel and Jewish people around the world?
It is probably one of the most special things. There are not many athletes from Israel. I am thankful to be able to represent Israel at the US Open. For the women, it is only me and Shahar in the main draw.
Do you think Israel can produce more top players? What are some of the challenges facing Israel?
There are a lot of Israel Tennis Centers, and a lot of people who play, but it is hard because everyone goes to the army at age 18. Also, tennis is an expensive sport. The tennis centers work hard to raise money, but it is expensive — traveling overseas, a coach, etc. I pay for my travel, mostly from my prize money. This time, I raised enough money for my coach, Liran Kling, to come.
There are ups and downs to playing tennis. You are away all the time. It is hard on your body — I have pain in my knees all the time. It is a hard life, but I love it. I feel lucky. I try not to think about [match results] or money — I just think about working hard and keeping healthy.
“The country gives so much to me, so whatever I can give back, I want to give back.”
What was your experience growing up? How did you get into tennis?
I was born in the Ukraine and moved to Israel when I was 8. I feel so Israeli! I am happy [my parents] moved, because life in Israel is so much better. We lived in Jerusalem for three years, in [the Katamon neighborhood], near the tennis center, where both of my parents are teachers. I remember so clearly the first time I went to the Israel Tennis Center: It was at night, the lights were on and they let me play — and they coached me –for free. We moved again, to Ramat Hasharon, so I could play tennis there. I was home-schooled for the last few years of high school, then went to the army.
Can you describe your army service?
I served for more than two years. I was a sports mitstayen [an elite athlete allowed to continue her career as she completed her army service]. I did three weeks of basic training where I stayed on the base, learned how to shoot a gun and slept in a room with nine other girls. After that, I was able to come to my base whenever I was [not playing tennis]. Serving in the army is important to me: It is one of the basic things of the country — it is special. The country gives so much to me, so whatever I can give back, I want to give back.