August 4, 2010
‘Hebrew Hammer’ Dudi Sela Gets Hero’s Welcome on L.A. Tennis Court
Israeli tennis star Dudi Sela might as well have been competing in Tel Aviv and not Los Angeles, given the many fans waving State of Israel flags at the Farmers Classic, held July 26 through Aug. 1 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on the UCLA campus.
Buoyed by the support, Sela delighted fans with lobs, drop shots, volleys and aces to defeat Belgian Xavier Malisse 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in his opening match.
“Seeing all the Israeli flags and having so many rooting for me definitely helped,” the 25-year-old Sela said afterward. “I like it when people are yelling and cheering; it makes me happy on the court.”
Sela followed up his victory with a close battle in the second round — only a few loose points made the difference before Sela lost to fourth-seeded Feliciano Lopez of Spain 7-6 (7), 6-4. “Even though I lost, I was happy with the way I played. A few points in the tiebreaker might have changed the match, but that’s tennis. I was happy to receive support in Los Angeles, and that is usually the case when I play in the United States,” he said.
Often referred to by teammates and fans as “The Hebrew Hammer” because of his persistence, Sela started playing tennis at age 7; by the time he was 18, he was ranked 12th among the top junior players in the world. Sela’s highest ranking on the pro men’s tennis circuit so far was 29th, in 2009.
He has been a hero in Israel since 2007 when, as an underdog, he defeated Chileans Fernando Francisco Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu in two five-hour Davis Cup matches to lead the Israelis to a berth in the World Group in 2008.
“That match against Gonzalez is the highlight of my career. I wasn’t expected to win — but playing in front of my country — I played as perfect as possible, and everything went our way,” he said.
Sela went on to perform more tennis miracles for his nation last year, despite unusual challenges. Because of political protesters demonstrating against Israel in Malmo, Sweden, the Swedes were forced to play the Davis Cup matches without spectators. Sela responded with two five-set wins to lead his nation to the quarter-finals with a 3-2 victory after trailing 2-1.
“I resisted the temptation to be angry about politics interfering with tennis. I chose to remain focused and give our team another reason to win that day. As was the case versus Chile, I felt that I gave my best effort, as did my teammates, when we won the final two matches. I think if our team would have been caught up with the emotion, we would not have won the matches.”
Then, in the quarterfinals later in 2009 in Tel Aviv, Sela led the underdog Israelis to a four-set victory over Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny. Israel’s 3-0 sweep of Russia at home before 10,500 fans — the largest crowd in Israel ever to watch tennis — was historic. In 2009, Israel went to the final four as semi-finalists in the Davis Cup for the first time.
“I can never forget the run we made as a team and receiving congratulatory phone calls from both the prime minister and president of Israel. Israel made world headlines for what we accomplished in tennis, and that will always be special,” Sela said.
“Without a doubt, Dudi is the leader on our team. His willingness to fight and having so many upset wins over his career just made the rest of us play better, too,” said Israeli Davis Cup team mate Jonathan Erlich, who lost in the second round of doubles at the Farmers Classic.