When Israeli wheelchair tennis player Guy Sasson boarded a plane from Houston to Israel on Oct. 7, he had no way of knowing what the next three months would have in store for himself or his homeland.
Sasson was set to change planes in Istanbul, but the flight to Israel was canceled and he was sent back to Houston, where he and his family are currently residing for his wife’s specialist medical training.
He has spent the last few months deeply immersed in the three worlds that are dear to him: tennis, Israel and family. Sasson—the No. 3 ranked tennis player in the world for singles in the quads wheelchair division—made it to the finals in both singles and doubles of the recent Australian Open Grand Slam. He was one of two Israelis representing Israel at the Australian Open (Mika Buchnik lost in the second round of the junior girls’ tournament).
Sasson, the owner of IsraMich (real estate) investments in Israel, is a very actively involved parent and with his wife helps manage the complex lives of their four children. In addition, he helped arrange for fellow top Israeli wheelchair tennis player Adam Berdichevsky and his family from an Israeli community near the Gaza Strip to relocate temporarily to Houston.
Unlike many tennis players, Sasson never intended to play tennis professionally. He grew up non-disabled in Ramat Gan, served in the Israel Defense Forces, attended the University of Michigan, married Aya Mohr (now Dr. Aya Mohr-Sasson) and started several businesses. He became a wheelchair user in 2015 after falling off a cliff while snowboarding in France.
He has come a long way since this harrowing ordeal, when after his accident his future was uncertain at best. He recounts: “They flew me to Tel Hashomer Hospital in Israel, I had major surgery on my spine and hand, and the doctors told me I won’t walk again. It turns out, I was in a rehab hospital at Tel Hashomer for one year and did walk out—with braces and canes.”
He was keen to keep active and contacted the Israel ParaSport Center in Ramat Gan. After seeing the tennis facilities and learning that Ofri Lankri, a professional tennis player who played on Israel’s 2014 Fed Cup team, would be serving as a coach, Sasson, who played tennis when he was a child, became interested. He started slowly and without sharing the news with others. “At first, I didn’t tell anyone—not even my wife.”
Sasson progressed quickly, began competing professionally and represented Israel in the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2021. He was recently reclassified from the open to the quads wheelchair division due to some changes in his upper-body functioning. He competed in this summer’s U.S. Open in New York where he was ranked No. 7 and reached the quarterfinals in both singles and doubles.
Jennifer Flink, national executive director of the Israel ParaSport Center in the United States, watched Sasson at the U.S. Open this summer and says, “Watching Guy Sasson play tennis at one of the largest events in the world was exhilarating.” She recognizes the important work she and her colleagues have in store given the numbers of newly wounded and disabled from the current war.
“At Israel ParaSport, sport is more than just a game. It empowers children and adults living with physical disabilities to succeed in all aspects of life. Not all become champions, but all become champions in life. And if the result is a world-class wheelchair tennis player like Guy, then that is the icing on the cake,” Flink notes.
Kicked off in Australia
Sasson says that the current professional tennis season, which kicked off in Australia, got off to a great start. He won the Victorian Wheelchair Open for singles (Jan. 8-12); the doubles of the Melbourne Wheelchair Open (Jan. 14-19); and reached the finals in the Australian Open for both singles and doubles (Jan. 23-27).
He acknowledges that he was a bit worried about how he would hold up away from home for so long. “I am usually gone for no more than 10 or 11 days. It is hard to be away from family, and it is physically and mentally hard.”
His hard work, boosted by many Jewish and Israeli fans, contributed to his success in Australia. “They supported me at all Grand Slam matches and even at my practices,” said Sasson. “They came in the hundreds, and there were 1,000 people from the Jewish community at the finals! They were a huge support—with Israeli flags (some bearing the slogan ‘Bring the Hostages Back’) and shouting in Hebrew.”
Sasson was impressed that his playing in the tournament seemed to provide a forum for the Jewish community to come together in support of Israel. “This sports event was an occasion for a big coming together, even for people who were not tennis fans. That is the power of sports!” he says. “The players were really surprised at the number of people who came out from the Jewish community to support a wheelchair tennis player.”
Sasson says he has not experienced any anti-Israel sentiment on the tennis tour: “I haven’t heard any negative comments about being Israeli or displaying ‘Bring Back the Hostages’ slogans.”
Both during his world travels and at home in Houston, he remains very connected to events in Israel. Most of his family members live in Israel, and Sasson’s brother spent two months in the IDF reserves in Gaza.
Sasson worked hard to help bring his close friend and fellow Israel wheelchair tennis player Adam Berdichevsky to Houston. Berdichevsky is a member of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, one of the southern Israeli Jewish communities near the border with Gaza that were assaulted by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Six members of the kibbutz and an IDF soldier were killed, and eight hostages were taken captive on the day of the attack.
Berdichevsky, his wife and their three young children spent many hours in a safe room and survived. Sasson and Israel Sports Center helped get the family to Houston, where they live in an apartment near the Sassons.
“The Jewish community hugged them. They have welcomed them and want to hear their stories. They have invited them for Shabbat dinner, helped raise money for a car and place to stay, and helped the kids with school,” reports Sasson, who regularly practices with Berdichevsky at the Houston JCC’s outdoor and indoor tennis courts.
The Sassons appreciate the care and support they have received from the Houston Jewish community, where they are spending several years during Mohr-Sasson’s gynecology fellowship program at the University of Texas Health Center in Houston. Their children—ages 5, 8, 11 and 13—are settled in at school.
Sasson wakes at 3 each morning to work with his real-estate team in Israel. He also follows a strict training regimen that seems to be paying off and continues to seek sponsors for his worldwide tennis travels. He hopes to play in upcoming tournaments in the United States, South Korea and Japan.
But this all depends on family matters being in order. He notes sadly, “Our au pair just quit!”