Dudi Sela 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's Davis Cup team had reached the World Group before, but never had it done so in such scintillating fashion.
Two days after Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich gave the team a 2-1 lead over Chile just an hour before the start of Yom Kippur, Dudi Sela stepped onto the Ramat Hasharon court to face then world No. 6 Fernando Gonzalez. Neither Sela nor Israeli sport would ever be the same afterward.
In what is arguably the greatest tennis match to be played in Israel, Sela, who was then ranked 99 places below his Chilean opponent, defeated Gonzalez 4-6, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-3 in a five-hour-long David versus Goliath match-up.
Since his teen's Sela had built himself a reputation as the most talented Israeli player of his generation. He had, however, come nowhere near to fulfilling his potential in his first five years as a pro and was a massive underdog against Gonzalez, who had reached the Australian Open final earlier in the year.
"You are never really playing an opponent," three-time Grand Slam winner Arthur Ashe once said. "You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy."
Watching Sela bury his head in his hands with disbelief after clinching the victory against Gonzalez, it was clear that he was experiencing the real joy Ashe had referred to.
After being ranked as high as third in the world as a youth player, Sela grew in frustration with every loss on the ATP circuit. He knew that he could defeat his opponent, but he was losing to himself. In 2006 he had even considered retiring from the sport, losing all hope that he might one day play at the level he knew he was capable of.
"I wasn't ready mentally," Sela once told me of the start of his career. "I would give up too easily and wouldn't train hard enough."
But those days are long gone. Sela has resurrected his career in the last 12 months and has gone from strength to strength since his amazing win in the Davis Cup. He will end 2007 as the 64th ranked player in the world, but even more importantly - with memories of a lifetime.
Sela, and anybody who was watching, will never forget September 23, the day in which Israeli sport experienced one of its most remarkable victories, thanks to a heroic display of the rarest kind.
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