By SCOTT TAYLOR

(Posted July 10) Dudi Sela seems lonely. On the one hand, he’s in Winnipeg to get paid to play the game he loves. On the other hand, his wife, Marina, and two young kids are back in Israel and on this rainy Tuesday without a match, he finds himself missing their smiles.

 

 

 

 

Sela, Israel’s No. 1-ranked player, is in Winnipeg for the $54,000 National Bank Challenger tournament at the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club. It’s part of the ATP’s Challenger Tour and has drawn the top players in the world who are not competing at Wimbledon. In fact, 22 players in the event, lost their first round matches at Wimbledon and flew directly to Winnipeg to take part in the tournament.

While he watched the rain come down, he lamented the fact that at 34, he was still touring the world just to make a living.

“No, I don’t enjoy the travel,” he said bluntly. “I have two kids in Israel – Elai is 6 and Talia is 4. I miss them all the time. I love tennis, but to have to travel all the time when the kids are at home and my wife is at home, that’s not fun. Today it’s easier with the technology, I can Video call, but it’s still not the same.

“I want to stay in tennis but it’s not easy in Israel. The money and competition isn’t there and I don’t really want to give lessons to senior ladies at the tennis club. I would like to be a tennis pro, but not for social tennis. I would like to start an academy in Israel like they have in the States and work with the best future tennis players. We don’t have enough young stars so that would be difficult. I love tennis but to try to make money at it in Israel is difficult.”

Sela has had a remarkable career and were it not for an injury-plagued season in 2018, he might still be a regular on the ATP’s big tour. He reached No. 9 on the ITF rankings as a junior, has played in countless Davis Cup matches, was in the 2016 Olympics and has won one ATP event and six Challengers. In 2017, he reached No. 67 in the World.

Not bad for a kid from a small city near the Israel-Lebanon border who grew up following his brother and parents to the local tennis club.

“I’m from a small city, Kiryat Shmona, and I have an older brother, Ofer, he’s 47 years old now, but he was a great player and I wanted to be like him,” said Dudi. “He played for Israel in the Davis Cup and his best world ranking was around 200. So, I always wanted to play tennis. My father was a tennis coach and my mother was the secretary of the tennis club so it was the family business.

“As a kid, I loved the game. All my friends were from the tennis club. I always wanted to play. Spending my life around the tennis club, that’s how I got started.”

And, with the effort, he became a solid player – fast and aggressive, he’s a skilled serve-and-volleyer.

“I have played a lot of Davis Cup matches, I represented Israel at the 2016 Olympics and I’m the No. 1 ranked player in Israel now,” he said. “The last 11 years I was ranked in the Top 100, but last year, I was injured and didn’t play much and fell to 164 in June. I think I’m 158 now, but I won a Challenger tournament in June in Little Rock, so I have been playing well this year.”

Which is why he’s in Winnipeg. A good showing here will put a few more dollars in his jeans and get him a step back to the big tour.

“I haven’t seen much of Winnipeg,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been from the hotel to the court. That’s it. It was a very comfortable in my schedule to come here this week. I lost at Wimbledon so I came here to play on hardcourt, that’s my best surface ad it’s a good event. The rankings of the players are between 80 and 250, so it’s a good tournament.”

It also provides another opportunity to continue his comeback.

“I was injured last year a lot and I didn’t play much,” he said. “But this year I came back and I’m feeling pretty good. And it’s hardcourt here, the same surface I practice on at home so it’s good.”

Now, well into his 30s, he knows his window to play big-time tennis is closing. At some point, he has to start thinking about spending more time with Marina, Elai and Talia.

“I have said that if I don’t make it back into the Top 100 it will be my last year, but so far I’ve been playing well, so maybe I can reach my goal and keep playing,” he said. “I feel good.”

“I see myself as a much better player today because I play differently. I didn’t think much when I was younger. I just went out on the court and hit the ball. Now, I think a lot more about the game. When I was younger I got by on pure talent and not thinking too much – there’s the ball, hit it there and see what happens. Today, sometimes I think too much and it bothers me.

“But I’m playing well and, right now, when I finish playing, I have no plan. I have had some offers from JCCs in the States to go and coach, but I don’t know yet what I’m going to do. Eventually, I think, I will have to find an opportunity in the United States, but it’s hard to say good-bye because I really still love the game.”