Israeli tennis star Dudi Sela.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON — Unable to capitalize on an exciting tie-breaking opening set, Dudi Sela lost to world No. 69 Josh Donaldson 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-3 in a 2 hour and 18-minute opening round at the Citi Open on Monday.
After a slow start, the 6-foot-2 American found his hard-serving form; winning 72 percent of his first serves on his way to winning seven of the nine final games to advance to the round of 32.
Sela’s (74) game plan was to play smart tennis: not chase points and not try to out hit Donaldson, whose serves consistently clocked upwards of 115 miles per hour and played aggressive tennis against the more strategic Sela.
“I felt that if I can play good defense and keep the ball low I would be good,” Sela said. “He was going for many shots and is not really a percentage guy. I felt like if I can hit the good ball, be solid and not go for too much, he's going to give me a lot of free points.”
Sela scored 40 of his points on returns, but as the match got deeper into the night he was lulled by Donaldson’s booming forehand. In the decisive game of the second set, Sela was backed up off the baseline in a fierce 30-all point. Donaldson charged the net. Expecting him to play a corner shot, Sela slid to his right, leaving most of the court exposed. Donaldson smashed the ball towards the baseline with such ferocity that it bounced high into the air and became a fan’s souvenir.
“I think I played okay today,” Sela said. “Just a few games here and there that I lost my head like that. But I think I played okay.
“I gave him so many free points, that was the key I think,” Sela said. “If I would put more balls in play, not even good balls, but just let him play, it will be different.”
On Monday, that gameplan was not enough, ultimately failing to prevent his own unforced errors. Trailing 40-15 in the decisive ninth game of the final set, Sela had regained his defensive form, only to follow up an aggressive forehand with a dribbler that fell short and ended the night.
Despite the advantage in returns - winning 21-of-34 second return points and half of his break points - Sela was consistently crushed by Donaldson’s serve, which bailed him out from a would-be mistake-riddled match. Favoring the scrappier Sela would not have been a bad bet, as it was less than one month ago at Wimbledon when Sela upset John Isner, another hard-hitting American, by outfoxing him with defense.
Instead, Donaldson advanced to play Marc Polmans, the lucky loser who was announced as the replacement for Isner, who withdrew Monday with a knee injury.
However, Israel still has a representative in Washington. World No. 262 Edan Leshem advanced through a pair of weekend qualifiers to earn a spot in the continuation of the first round on Tuesday. Leshem, who will be playing in the main draw of an ATP Tour event for the first time in his career, faces Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.
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