Young Israelis of the year: Dudi Sela, 24: Tennis anyone?

Dudi Sela, 24 Tennis an

There were many highlights for Dudi Sela in the past year, but none more significant than Israel's Davis Cup victories over Sweden and Russia. It was just under 12 months ago that Sela's career took off when he reached the final of the Beijing ATP tournament and progressed to a then career-high No. 66 in the world. In the past six months he has continued to succeed on the pro circuit, advancing to a career-best fourth round at Wimbledon and reaching No. 29 in the rankings in July. However, for all his accomplishments abroad, it was his victories for the national team at home which endeared him to the country and transformed him from just another excellent sportsman into a household name. Sporting heroes are often larger-than-life figures, in more ways than one, but with his boy-next-door charm and wondrous play, it is no surprise that Sela has fascinated the general public and not just tennis fans. Sela's move from the sports section to the front pages began two years ago when he defeated then world No. 6 Fernando Gonzalez with a heroic display to give Israel a 3-2 victory over Chile and a spot in the Davis Cup World Group for the first time since 1994. However, it was only in the past year that the Kiryat Shmona native became a sporting icon at the tender age of 24. Sela won both his singles matches in Israel's 3-2 victory over Sweden in March, helping the team to the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup for the first time in 22 years, while thousands of locals cried anti-Israeli chants outside the arena in Malmo. Few expected the national team to defeat Russia in the last eight in Tel Aviv in July, but Sela gave the team a 2-0 lead after the first day of play with his ninth Davis Cup win in his last 10 matches. Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich would go on to book Israel's place in the semifinals of one of sports most prestigious competitions with a win in the doubles match the following day. Israel faces the mighty Spain over Rosh Hashana in the last four, and surely not even another magical performance by Sela can give the national team a sensational victory over Rafael Nadal and friends. However, regardless of the result in Spain, Sela's emotional triumphs in the past year have touched millions and have made him one of the most recognizable faces in Israeli sports. Anyone who watched him celebrate following his wins could not help but feel he had experienced something together with Sela, and for that rare moment alone he deserves every accolade.