(photo credit: REUTERS)
One day Dudi Sela will be telling his grandchildren about the 2015 Australian Open.
Sela, ranked No. 106 in the world, will face Rafael Nadal (3) in the third round in Melbourne on Friday after making it past the second round of a grand slam tournament for the first time since 2009 on Wednesday.
Sela upset world No. 30 and 28th seed, Lukas Rosol, 7-6 (2), 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 to make it through to the third round of the Australian Open for just the second time in his career after first doing so in 2009.
The furthest Sela has ever gone in a grand slam event is the fourth round, losing to Novak Djokovic in the last 16 at Wimbledon also in 2009.
He will have to record a remarkable upset to repeat that accomplishment in Melbourne this year after an ailing Nadal dug deep into his vast reservoir of grit to stave off American qualifier Tim Smyczek, and stagger into the third round after a grueling four hours and 12 minutes.
“It is fun to start the year like this,” said Sela, who is set to return to the world’s top-90. “I played a little better than I did in the first round and was given a great push by the many Israelis and Jews in the stands. It will be a completely different story against Nadal in the next round and I will have to be very ready and aggressive and hope that he won’t be having a good day to have any chance.”
Nadal, who had admitted before the start of the tournament that he was probably not ready for a tilt at the title after being absent for several months in 2014 with injury and illness, has lost to players ranked outside the top-50 in five of his past six ATP Tour tournaments.
Nevertheless, Sela understands that the outcome of Friday’s contest will depend almost solely on his rival’s level of performance.
“Of course he will have to be having a pretty bad day and I will have to be having a very good day,” said Sela when asked if he can win. “I need to play well in the important points, because he isn’t just another player. He plays at a level I’m not used to facing. I will need to take my chances and not make many mistakes.
“In the past I used to come to these matches just looking to enjoy myself, but today I have some self-belief, even though I’m as big an underdog as possible.”
Nadal said he felt so ill after the first set that he feared he was going to have to pull out.
The 28-year-old had romped through the first set but was then struck by something that almost made him vomit on court and left him sweating profusely.
“I was close to not continuing. I was dizzy, I felt that I might fall down,” Nadal told reporters after the 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-5 victory over the American.
“At the end of the first set, I start to feel my body very bad, very tired. I don’t know. I was worrying crazy.
“I was suffering a lot. Too much. (It) was not funny today.”
Center court was the backdrop for nerve-shredding tests for some of the coolest heads in the business on Wednesday and with the temperature rising above 32 degrees Celsius (90F), Maria Sharapova showed she has ice in her veins.
She mounted a brilliant counter-attack to fend off fellow Russian Alexandra Panova, a 150th-ranked qualifier playing the match of her life.
Down two breaks of serves at 4-1 in the deciding set, Sharapova clawed back to 5-4 and clobbered a string of forehand winners to save two match-points before marching on to a defiant 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 victory.
Men’s second seed Roger Federer was also forced to scrap in the following match on center court, after being thrown by a phantom pain on the little finger of his racket hand during his 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over 48th-ranked Italian Simone Bolelli.
“It felt like a bee stung me,” the 33-year-old said of his troubled finger.
“I was like, ‘this can’t be possible’.
“I’d never had this pain before...
Thankfully it wasn’t so bad at the end.”
Federer remains on course to face Andy Murray in the quarterfinals after the Brit beat Marinko Matosevic 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 to retreat to the cool of the shade after 102 impressive minutes.Reuters contributed to this report.