It wasn’t so much a case of “whether” as a matter of “weather” when Israeli tennis player Dudi (David) Sela made his annual return in mid-February to south Florida and the Delray Beach Open by the Venetian Las Vegas.

Sela, Israel’s highest ranking male tennis player at the moment (currently at number 90) was both under the weather (having passed on the Memphis Open from the week before) and feeling the effects of the weather – notable wind gusts – in first round play facing 17-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev, who came in as a wild card (i.e., a player invited by the organizers who might not otherwise have qualified for the main draw; Rublev was the 2014 French Open junior singles champion).

On the sunny, but notably windy morning both players held serve until the fifth game in the first set, when Sela dropped serve despite an ace and a winner in the game, after double faulting at 30-40.

Losing the next game in straight points, Sela struggled in the 7th game of the set with four unforced errors and one double fault before serving up two aces at deuce point to win the game.

Sela committed two more double faults his next time serving, but held on for a score of 4-5, with Rublev next serving for the set.

Sela was up 40-30 when he hit what looked like a baseline winner, but was ruled out by the line judge. He followed this with a drop shot at the net to take advantage and possibly save the set, but after Rublev hit a winner to tie the game up again Sela committed two more unforced errors to lose the first set 4-6.

Sela started the second set off strong with another drop shot at the net, then broke serve and took the next game in straight points for a 3-0 lead. Sela then proceeded to run up a 5-0 lead, winning the set 6-1.

Both players held serve in the third set, when Sela hit a a nice slice that fell short into the net and trailing 30-40 in the 4th game, Sela came to net in the next point, but Rublev had enough time to chase the ball down and take the point and the game for a 3-1 lead in the set. Sela, whose net game has been one of his strengths and at times his downfall over the years, came to net again in the 7th game but came too late to put the ball away and Rublev succeeded to get it back across for the game and the lead at 5-2. With the score at deuce in the next game, Sela committed two more unforced errors, giving Rublev his first ATP victory (6-4, 1-6, 6-3).


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Afterwards, Sela’s voice was clear indication that he was under the weather. “I skipped last week’s tournament in Memphis and I only practiced one day before today, so I hadn’t been playing and the wind was also a factor, so I think it cut into my confidence a bit. It was a strange match. We both struggled, I would miss then he would miss. I wasn’t having success at the net. In the end I gave him the match (with all my unforced errors).”

Sela has played some four or five times previously at Delray Beach, and is a fan of the modest ($549,230 purse) event (“Especially when it isn’t windy!”)

Earlier in the year, Sela faced Rafa Nadal for the first time in his career, meeting in the third round of play at the Australian Open.

“I felt a good deal of pressure playing Nadal. When he hits the ball the bounce is quite high so that was one of the difficulties I had to deal with. He mostly returned the ball to the center of the court and only when he was ahead he would hit to the corners. As the match went on I loosened up a bit. In the end, it was a great experience.”

A long-time member of Israel’s David Cup team, is not particularly optimistic on the state of Israeli tennis, particularly the lack of resources at the moment. But he did single out up-and-comer Yishai Oliel, 15 of Ramla.

Sela, who reached his career high rank of 29 in 2009, will turn 30 in April, and is the father of a baby boy. “Physically I feel great. I have been playing a lot of tournaments lately. Now that I am a dad, it is hard to be away from home so much, but it gives me added motivation. For one thing, I have to keep winning to keep my child in diapers! But being a parent gives me a whole new perspective on what I do. And one day when my playing days are over I plan to open a tennis academy. Not that I am looking to retire anytime soon.”      17 February 2015