A tennis ball whizzed past Sir Cliff Richard so fast the crowd could almost hear it.
Rather than disappointment at missing the ball, however, a look of happy surprise spread across his face.
For this was a special opponent — a 12-year-old tennis champion at Nazareth’s YMCA — and these games carried a special mission: to promote co-existence between Jews and Arabs.
Sir Cliff is in Israel for two concerts, on July 11 and 13. Judging by the way the 72-year-old-darted across the tennis court on Tuesday, playing rallies against queues of thrilled teenagers, it is a safe bet he will not disappoint.
He played air guitar on his racket, and obviously enjoyed the hero’s welcome he received in this biblical city — to the soundtrack of his greatest hits, blasting from the speakers.
Nazareth is a city of miracles! - Sir Cliff Richard
In a flurry of thumbs up and words of encouragement, Sir Cliff told the kids that though the odds are tough, “Nazareth is a city of miracles!”
Over 6,000 Arab and Jewish children come to play at the Nazareth YMCA, sponsored by Sir Cliff and the Freddie Krivine Foundation.
“I grew up in a multicultural atmosphere, but when I came to Israel I was really shocked because it was so divided,” said Jane Krivine, who has headed the foundation since her father died in 2005.
Freddie Krivine made aliyah from Britain in 1984 and, as president of the Israel Tennis Association from 1992 until his death, worked to bring Israelis and Arabs together on the court.
Ms Krivine teamed up with Sir Cliff to arrange the funding of new tennis courts and to re-open tennis classes at the Nazareth YMCA.
The children “love coming here”, said Hazar Kahazi, from Nazareth, whose three children train at the courts.
“Playing tennis together improves the relationships [between Arabs and Jews] because sports, of course, do not require any language,” she said.