Articles > Israeli Tennis Star Dudi Sela: Making A Racquet
On a cold south Florida night better suited to a football game than a tennis match, Israeli Dudi Sela faced his good friend, Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, in second round play at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.
Fresh off a semi-final finish at the Memphis Championship the previous week, Sela took an early 3-0 lead, losing only two points in the first three games. But Baghdatis came right back to even the score at three games apiece.
The two traded games as the first set went to a tie breaker. It was in the tie breaker that Sela ran into trouble, as his signature drop shot failed to make it across the net on three consecutive points. Sela was down 0-5 when he staged a comeback of sorts, winning the next 5 points. Three points later, Sela led 7-6 … but Baghdatis held serve to take the lead 8-7. It was at that point that Sela dropped serve and lost the first set.
By then things started to unravel a bit. After losing the first game in the next set, Sela had two chances to close out the second game, but couldn’t get it done. Scoring only two points in the next 3 games, he was now down 0-5, and Baghdatis looked to close out the set and the match.
But Sela showed that he wasn’t ready to throw in the towel, and made another surge, taking the next three games, and the handful of Israelis in the crowd started to come to life. At 3-5 in the second set, it wasn’t looking good, but it was looking possible. That is, until Baghdatis took the next four points. Game. Set. Match.
“It was tough,” Sela said afterwards. “It was cold and windy. In the second set I had game point twice in the second game when he broke my serve.
When asked about his aggressive game, (Sela went to net on numerous occasions, but often his shots went into the net, not over it), he replied, “Yeah, I played too aggressive. Looking back, I probably should have held back a bit and let him make more mistakes.”
“Zeh meva’es” he added, “losing sucks. But at least it was a loss to a friend. Losing to someone else would have made it worse.” Still, with the season Sela has had in recent weeks, he took it in stride, noting, “You win some, you lose some. Before he was injured, Marcos was ranked as high as no. 10 in the world. Since coming back from his injury, he has been playing very well.”
Over the years, Sela and Baghdatis have developed a close friendship, and have even played as a doubles team on occasion. “He’s a good friend, probably my best friend on the tour,” Dudi noted. We have practiced together; we know each others’ game very well. So that makes it harder to go against someone who is your good friend and who knows your game. But in the end, he played his game and I played mine.”
In the previous round at Delray Beach, Sela faced another friend, German Philipp Petzschner, whose ranking compares to his own. In that match, Sela’s aggressive style served him well as he took the first set 6-3 and was up 4-1 in the second set when Petzschner retired with a wrist injury.
Two Jewish players with local roots were entered in qualifying play, trying to earn one of the four open spots in the 32-man draw. Jesse Levine of Boca Raton and Wayne Odesnik of Weston both fell in the second of three qualifying rounds.
For Sela, not having to play qualifying rounds makes a big difference. “It’s exhausting to have to play three matches in two days just to get into the main draw, like some of the guys here have to do. Even in the “qualies” the level of play is pretty high, and by the time you get to the main draw your energy is already sapped.” Sela is happy that he no longer has to qualify – except in the case of the biggest tournaments, such as the Grand Slam events. In January Sela made it through qualifying rounds at the Australian Open and went on to score wins against Rainer Schuettler (No. 31) and Victor Hansecu (No. 39) before falling to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 3rd round.
Life on the pro circuit can be very exhausting, Sela continued. “All the time you are traveling, always living out of suitcases. I never really get to see anything in the places that I visit.” (Besides heading “down under,” other recent stops for Sela include San Jose, CA and, as mentioned, Elvis’ hometown of Memphis). “Take this tournament, for example. If I would have lost after the first round I would be on a plane that very night to Israel, and a few days later I’m already on a plane again to Sweden for Davis Cup play. From Sweden I head to Indian Wells, CA, then back to Miami. Besides all the travel, there are time changes and jet lag.” Sela travels with his coach, Yoav Shav, which helps somewhat. Players making less on the tour (by virtue of playing lower level tournaments, the so-called Challengers, or failing to advance well into tournament play) lack the funds to cover that additional expense.
In the past year, Sela’s ranking has dropped from 57 (his highest to date) down to 105. “I’ve had a good start to 2009, earning enough points to bring my ranking up to 65.” (Each win in each successive round of play earns a player points that count toward his ranking. For example, making it to the final round of qualifying play netted a player 12 points, making it through the first round of the draw gave players 20 points, and so on, through to the last match where the winner received 250 points and the player he beat got 150 points.)
Sela’s success in Memphis (he was the first Israeli to reach the semi-finals in Memphis since Amos Mansdorf in 1992 and 1993) netted him enough points to go up in the rankings from 86 to 65. Last September, he reached his first-ever ATP World Tour final without dropping a set, defeating No. 5 David Ferrer 6-2, 6-3, and No. 16 Tommy Robredo 6-4, 6-0, before losing in the final to Andy Roddick.
Despite playing in an area with a large Jewish population, there were only a handful of Israelis to cheer Dudi on. (Even the Cypriot Baghdatis had a very vocal contingent rooting him on from the stands). Nevertheless, Sela takes great pride in representing the Jewish state on the tennis court, whether it is playing as an individual or being part of Israel’s Davis Cup team, which is experiencing a renaissance of sorts since returning to World Group relegation in 2007, 13 years removed from the heyday of Israeli tennis and the likes of Shlomo Glickstein, Amos Mansdorf, Gil’ad Bloom and Shahar Perkis.
Note: Since this article was written, Sela’s ranking improved two spots to No. 63.
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