After winning the men's singles gold medal for tennis last summer in the 10th Maccadiah Games, Steve Krulevitz of Baltimore agreed to take out dual citizenship and play for Israel in the Davis Cup. He could scarcely have imagined what it would turn out to be like.
"I don't think there have been too many experiences in tennis like it," Krulevitz said this week, recounting the events surrounding Israel's first-round series against Austria in March, four days after a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) attack in Tel Aviv killed 34 persons and injured 72.
"Up until then, everything had been pretty relaxed. I had never played a Davis Cup match before, so I didn't know what to expect. But I went over there a week early and was training hard," said Krulevitz, 27, who is ranked No. 24 in the U.S.
"The PLO attack changed the complexion of everything. It got pretty heavy. Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation. There was a curfew. Everyone was mobilized. The streets were empty. Suddenly it was as if the country was at war.
"The day after the attack, they thought there were still three terrorists on the loose. People were walking up and down the streets with guns, even teen-agers. There were road-blocks. Our hotel was full of police and soldiers. The beaches were being combed with jeeps. It was just incredible to me.
"There was some thought given to cancelling the matches when they thought some terrorists were still at large, but once it was determined they had been killed in the bus, we knew the matches would go on.
"It's a strange thing, but it's very important to the people there to carry on normal events despite the tensions. That's why the matches were played. They want to live a normal life even though there is always the threat of war. And the Israelis are so patriotic, the Davis Cup match meant a lot to them. It was important, more important than just the tennis."
Krulevitz and Paul Cohen, a Los Angeles teaching pro invited to assist the Israeli team as "Honorary coach," had been invited to a barbecue at the Tel Aviv Country Club at 4:30 the afternoon the terrorists struck on the country club road. Krulevitz decided at the last minute not to go. Otherwise, they might have been killed.
"We were just about to go out there, but I was tired. I had practiced all morning and I wanted to stay at the hotel and get some rest because I was beat, "Krulevitz recalls. "When the terrorists came up the road, they shot up a taxi, killed the people inside, and drove off after the bus, shooting and throwing grenades.You never know what might have happened if we had been driving down that road at the time.
"The next day, we weren't getting much news in English. I don't speak or read Hebrew, but we had read about the attack in the Jerusalem Post (an English language daily). We didn't know there was a 24-hour curfew in the section around the country club, and we started to drive out there to practice.
"When we got to the courts, the area was deserted. The gates were locked. The Israeli players were nowhere to be found. There wasn't a soul in sight. I guess Paul and I were the only ones thinking about tennis.
"I started to imagine things. The courts were in the middle of some orange groves, and I thought I saw figures, I said, "Paul, what are we doing out here? There could be terrorists hiding in those trees. I was nervous as hell and just wanted to get out of there.
"But Paul said the terrorists wouldn't be in the orange groves. He said everything would be okay and climbed over the fence. I threw him the rackets and started to climb over too.
"All of a sudden a chopper came out of nowhere and started circling us. Six guys were hanging out, looking down at us with rifles. I froze. They circled a few times and flew off. Then I looked up the road and saw two soldiers. I was sure they were terrorists.
"I was so sacred," continued the frizzy-headed Krulevitz, "that Paul says my hair went straight. They were Israelis searching the fields, but I was so nervous after that, I couldn't even get over the fence."
The match, by contrast, was easy on the nerves - almost an anti-climax. Security and tension remained high because of the counter-raids in Lebanon, but more than 4,000 attended the matches in the horseshoe stadium that is patterned after that in Forest Hills, N.Y.
Krulevitz won his two singles matches, but Austria captured the best-of-five series.
"I'm going back in October for a $25,000 Grand Prix tournament in Tel Aviv, Krulevitz said. "And if they ask me. I think I'll play Davis Cup again in 1979.
"I would never live anyplace but the States, but there is definitely a part of me that has strong feelings for Israel. It is a fantastic, courageous country."