An Interview With the Israeli King of College Tennis

The Israeli who dominated the U.S. college tennis world shares how he got to the top, and where he plans to go next.
Courtesy of Daniel Cukierman

Daniel Cukierman was born in Tel Aviv and started playing tennis when he was six. He quickly developed a passion for the game, grew his ambition to make it to the top, and eventually got to the pros before serving three years in the army. Now, after graduating from USC where he spent time as the No. 1 ranked singles player in U.S. college tennis, he has returned to the pro tour. As a tennis coach and co-founder of academy First Serve Tennis, as well as an ambassador for ISRAEL21c, I recently got the chance to interview Daniel on his tennis journey during his last semester of college.

Courtesy of Daniel Cukierman

You’re a senior in college, which can be a pretty stressful time as we try and figure out what to do with the rest of our lives and what the future holds for us. What are your plans going forward?

My plan going forward is to play tennis, I’m going pro after this semester. To be honest, nothing much changes from my perspective because I’m going to continue to practice and play tennis as usual.

Many players train extremely hard to get to a high level, while others are just naturally talented and don’t have to put in as much work. Could you talk about the time and effort you put in to get where you are today?

For me, my junior career was not very good. I wasn’t a good tennis player I would say. When I was about 17, I was introduced to Amos Mansdorf who was ranked 18 in the world at his highest, and he actually taught me how to work hard and really improve. He’s been the biggest influencer in my tennis career. Since then, I’ve been working every day.

What’s the best coaching tip you’ve ever received?

I can’t point to a single one, but I remember during one of my first individual practices with Amos, I almost puked on the court. I was like “Oh, this is hard, I’m not used to this.” He looked at me with an expression like, ‘Oh, this is hard for you? This is just basic, everyday training’. His reaction showed me that I needed to change my habits.

Is there a specific match that you’ve played that stands out among the others?

Yes, there’s a few. My biggest achievement was the 2020 Davis Cup where I beat Cem İlkel. I felt like I was thrown into deep waters but I managed to control my nerves and win the match. After that, Jonathan Erlich and I also won doubles. I definitely will never forget these matches.

How does coming from Israel influence the way you see yourself as a tennis player, especially on a global scale?

Even though Israel is very small, we have very special people. I think Israel is a special place for someone to grow up an athlete because we have the Army. The three-year Army requirement for Israeli citizens is something that’s really important in our professional careers. I don’t think it’s an advantage for an athlete to have that because you have limitations on practices, travel, and other things that can improve your tennis skills. But, it’s something that citizens of Israel accept because it’s an expectation given to us at birth; being Israeli means serving in the Army and we take pride in that, despite the disadvantages it can cause to an athlete developing their career.

What two tips would you give to a young tennis player that’s looking to improve their game?

First, results are not what’s most important. There are a lot of players that didn’t do well in the juniors, but are now accomplished in the pros. The opposite is true as well. There were multiple No. 1 juniors that were not as successful in the pros. It’s important to develop your skills, listen to your coaches, and work hard. Those are the three main goals I think any junior player should have.

How much of your game do you credit to luck and natural talent, versus hard work?

I wouldn’t say I’m the most talented player. I’m not tall or super equipped with my hands. I’d say I’m more of an aggressive grinder. I would credit hard work more to my success. I’m more of a hard worker than a naturally talented player that can hit a shot from anywhere. However, every player obviously needs a little talent in order to be a good one.

You can check out Daniel’s full video interview from April 7, 2021 here.

Courtesy of Daniel Cukierman

Aaron Reznik is an ISRAEL21c Digital Ambassador and founder of First Serve Tennis. First Serve Tennis is a tennis academy based out of Montclair and Verona, NJ, serving clinics, lessons, and tournaments to players of all ages and levels. Feel free to follow their Instagram @FirstServeTennis21 or check out their website FirstServeTennisNJ.com.

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