Throughout his illustrious tennis career, Israel’s Dudi Sela has become a fan-favourite around the globe, and more specifically in Australia.
The former World No. 29, who has reached the third round of the Australian Open on three occasions is known for the boisterous crowds he attracts when playing at Melbourne Park.
“Always the fans are amazing in Melbourne and have helped me so much when I play here [at the Australian Open],” Sela told The First Serve’s Jedd Zetzer.
After going down in the opening round of qualifying, the 2022 Australian Open spells the end of Sela’s playing days in Australia, and the roistering crowd that has followed him from the outside courts at Melbourne Park to Rod Laver Arena will be missed.
“Today was not great, but I had some fun and that’s what matters,” Sela said following his qualifying defeat on Monday.
Due to the pandemic, many of Sela’s beloved fans were unable to attend his final stint at Melbourne Park, but the 36-year-old, who has embraced his adoring fans over the years had a parting message for the smaller than usual pocket of fans who were in attendance at Court 12 on Monday.
“Thank you guys for the last 20 years,” Sela told his fans courtside on Monday following his defeat.
After farewelling his fans who were in attendance, Sela signed off with a video message for those who were unable to attend his final match.
“As a tennis player I think it’s going to be my last year, but I am for sure going to come back as a coach or something else. I just want to say a big thank you,” Sela said in the video.
Today, the guys were not here, so I lost,” Sela joked.
“Next time I come back we will celebrate."
Sela’s playing days at Melbourne Park might be over, but the Israeli has significant plans to return to Australia.
After competing in the 2020 Australian Open, Sela anticipated his playing days were coming to a close and together with his wife, Marina Kabisher - a multi-talented lawyer, decided it was time to begin the next chapter of their lives.
“Two years ago when I was here the last time, my wife and I decided we wanted to go and live somewhere for two to three years. We love Melbourne, Australia, so we said let’s try for a few years. It is lovely here, the kids will learn English,” Sela exclaimed.
“So we started the visa process for all of us, but unfortunately, covid came and made things very difficult.”
As a result of the pandemic, the Sela family’s plans to move to Australia were put on hold. As for the beloved Israeli’s career - due to the lack of professional playing opportunities during the pandemic, as well as lingering injury woes, Sela elected to stay at home in Israel and open the Dudi Sela Tennis Academy.
The academy is located at the Tel Aviv University in Israel.
“I stayed in Israel and opened my own academy. I wanted to play a little bit but covid made it difficult for me. So I stayed in Israel coaching,” Sela said.
“There were no tournaments to play, and after a few months, I felt I cannot play anymore. My body was done, I couldn’t play at the level that I used to.”
Despite feeling he could no longer compete at the level that saw him reach the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2009, Sela returned to the court with a protected ranking at Wimbledon last year.
Under the ATP’s [Association of Tennis Professionals] protected ranking system, a player may apply for a protected ranking when they are physically injured and do not compete in any tennis event for a minimum period of six months.
Sela’s protected ranking is 224, which is high enough to get him into qualifying for the grand slams, as well as a variety of other ATP tournaments.
“I still had the protected ranking because of my injuries, so I decided that before every big tournament or grand slam, I am going to practice hard and try my luck. Maybe I can win some matches.”
Under the ATP Protected Ranking rulebook, Sela has 12 protected ranking entries into tournaments that permit at his disposal.
The Israeli used it for the first time at Wimbledon last year, and for the second time this week in Melbourne. He had planned to use it at the US Open last year but was unable to compete after contracting COVID-19.
“I have 12 tournaments that I can use. I played Wimbledon and now this is my second. I was meant to play in the US Open, but I got covid so I could not play,” Sela explained.
The 36-year-old plans to use his remaining ten entries on the tour this year before it expires in September.
“For the rest of the year I am not going to play a lot of tournaments, I’m going to go back to my academy and try and raise the new generation.
However, I will play the rest of the slams and a few other big tournaments. Ten tournaments in total. That is how many more times I can use it.
I would love to play here [at the Australian Open] again next year, but I cannot because my protected ranking finishes in September.”
As for his family’s plans to move down under, they have not given up on the move just yet.
“I am meeting with the lawyer that helps me with the visa to come here with my family on Thursday to see what’s going on.
We really wanted to come here two years ago. Things have changed a little bit but we really desperately want to come here to see how life is here in Melbourne, Australia and to see if I can maybe do something here in tennis.
I am going to meet with the lawyer here on Thursday and after that, I am going to leave,” Sela said.
“I still plan to move here if it is possible.”