For the first time in his career, Dudi Sela has made it through to the second round at Roland Garros. As the lone Israeli player in the men’s singles line-up, the 24 year-old is used to the task of carrying his country’s hopes.
Sela’s connection with his country’s intense history goes beyond the classroom. Amid a backdrop of political protestation, the world No55 almost single-handedly defeated the Swedish Davis Cup team in Malmo back in March. The Swedish authorities had denied public access to the stadium fearing a security risk, but Sela put the off-court controversy out of his mind and won both his matches in five sets, including a fantastic 11-9 final set triumph in the second rubber.
“You can’t control how people react,” says the young Tel Aviv resident. “Some see my nationality as something positive, others are not so kind.”
“I’m not going to change the world”
“I don’t think being Israeli is a problem on the tennis circuit,” says Sela, who does not see his nationality as an issue. “My best friends are Marcos (Baghdatis) whose father is Lebanese, and Younes (El Aynoui). He’s from Morocco. I also have friends from Algeria and Tunisia who are all Muslims. We don’t care about religion or nationality. We just go out and have fun. I’m not going to change the world.”
What Sela certainly is intent on changing is his career record. Despite a superb one-handed backhand and exceptional footwork, he has only managed to book himself a place in one ATP tour final so far, in Beijing last year.
“Having friends on tour gives you more energy and spurs you on – in the changing rooms you can feed off the energy of the other players. Every time there are several Israeli players in the same tournament, we win more matches. That’s not a coincidence. It’s too bad that I’m the only one here,” says Sela, hinting at a touch of loneliness.
A win over Marin Cilic in the second round would be a great achievement and go some way to putting Israel tennis back on the map. And with compatriot Andy Ram defending the mixed doubles title he won last year with Nathalie Dechy and Shahar Peer having enjoyed some success on the WTA circuit, Israeli tennis certainly has reason to believe that better days lie ahead.