THE last remaining Jewish players in the Australian Open singles draw were both victims of highly fancied opponents during the tournament’s third round, with Israeli Dudi Sela losing to Rafael Nadal and Italian Camila Giorgi missing out on a giftwrapped chance to upset Venus Williams.
Sela had booked the date with Nadal after pulling off one of the highlights of his career in the second round, beating 28 seed Lukas Rosol in four sets before a Dudi-infatuated crowd.
On a packed Rod Laver arena on Friday night, the 29-year-old was hoping to become the first Israeli man to reach the round of 16 at Melbourne Park since Amos Mansdorf made the quarterfinals in 1992. But saying the odds were stacked against would be to grossly understate the challenge facing him.
A similarity in age is where the comparisons end, as Sela falls more than 100 spots behind in the rankings and has won zero ATP titles to Nadal’s 64, including 14 at Grand Slams. And the disparity was obvious, as Sela never really threatened in the 6-1, 6-0, 7-5 loss.
“I think that I played very well in the second round, much better then tonight,” Sela told the AJN following his best result at the Aussie Open since 2009.
“Of course it’s a different condition, different match, different opponent. Yes, it’s some (ATP) points so for sure it helps me in the rankings and also with my confidence. Hopefully I can keep up the level of how I played in the first two rounds and the third set tonight.”
Nadal quickly found his range against Sela and took the first set in just 28 minutes.
It was a similar story in the second set and with the score sitting at 4-0, a baseline winner from Sela was cancelled out when Nadal rightfully challenged. This led to a humorous moment as the Israeli jokingly pleaded with the world number three to surrender a single point, drawing laughter from both his opponent and the crowd. Sela finally began to offer some resistance in the third.
He recorded 15 winners in the set (out of an overall 20), but failed to convert two break points at 3-2 and again at 5-5. Sela admitted that Rod Laver Arena was a difficult adjustment for someone who plays most of their tennis on the world’s outer courts.
“It’s very tough for me to play on this kind of court,” Sela said.
“The view, the serve, the depth of the court, the way the ball bounces is all different. So in the beginning I was very nervous; my hand was not even moving, and also my legs. Even after the first set I didn’t really feel in the match.”
Pricey seating and a clash with Shabbat times meant Sela’s blue-and-white army was noticeably absent, prompting him to say post match, “I missed it a little bit, yes. I like to play in front of them.
“Tonight they weren’t there because it’s in Rod Laver and on Friday night. But not because of that I lost – well probably.”
It was a heartbreaker for world number 33 Giorgi, who fell unbearably close TO upsetting Venus Williams (ranked 18), as the seasoned American managed to comeback from a set down to win, 4-6, 7-6, 6-1.
The fearless young Italian came out firing, winning the first set and going a break up in the second, with her power from the baseline overwhelming the seven-time Grand Slam winner in the early stages.
However, Giorgi failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, and when Williams forced a decider after winning the tiebreak, momentum violently swung the 34-year-old’s way. William’s confidence grew and Giorgi’s poor service game, which saw her commit 16 double faults, combined to see the American stalwart run out the third set in an impressive display of whizzing serves and backhands.
THE wheelchair singles event got underway as the AJN went to press, with Sydneysider Adam Kellerman scheduled to face world number 2 Stephane Houdet from France in the first round. The 24-year-old ranked 17 in the world won entry into the main draw with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Ben Weekes in the wildcard playoff on Monday.
Pictured: Camila Giorgi blazes another backhand during her round three loss to Venus Williams. Photo: Peter Haskin
ADAM BLAU AT MELBOURNE PARK