Sela falls in final; Fed starts with a win

Ranked No. 95 in the world, Sela upset top seed and home favorite Thomaz Bellucci in the semifinals.

Dudi Sela 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Dudi Sela 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Dudi Sela’s 2011 season ended on a sour note on Sunday following a 6-2, 6-4 defeat to Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in the final of the ATP Challenger Tour Finals in Sao Paulo.
Sela, ranked No. 95 in the world, upset top seed and home favorite Thomaz Bellucci in the semifinals, and despite beating Stebe in their group opener on Wednesday, found himself on the back foot throughout the final of the event for the top performers of the year in the secondary tennis tour.
The 26-year-old Israeli had his chances, but converted just one of six break points against Stebe (103), who wrapped up the win in one hour and 26 minutes.
Despite the frustrating loss, Sela will console himself with amassing $39,900 in prize money and collecting 60 ranking points, which should see him climb around 10 places from his current position.
A win would have given him a further $45,000 and another 50 ranking points that would have taken him back into the world’s top 80 at the end of a disappointing year he began at No. 75.
Sela failed to win consecutive matches in a main Tour tournament all season and had it not been for his exploits on the Challenger Tour, which included consecutive titles in May and June in Busan, South Korea, Fergana, Uzbekistan and Nottingham, England, he would have likely ended the year outside the world’s top 100.
However, his performance in Brazil over the last five days ensured that would not be the case, although he will be annoyed at losing on Sunday to a player he defeated in straight sets just four days earlier.
Stebe’s forehand winner gave him the first break of the match in the sixth game and the German broke Sela for a second time to wrap up the first set in 41 minutes.
The 21-year-old Stebe, who was ranked outside the top- 400 in February, raced into a 3-0 lead in the second set, and despite failing to serve out the match, the left-handed German soon clinched the title when Sela dropped his serve once more in the 10th game.
Meanwhile in London, Roger Federer narrowly avoided another Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ambush on Sunday as he began the defense of his ATP World Tour Finals title with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 victory as roundrobin action began at the season- ending showpiece.
The Swiss endured one of the most painful losses of his year at Wimbledon in June when Tsonga blasted back from two sets down in their quarter-final and a repeat looked a distinct possibility in front of a 17,500 full house at the O2 Arena.
Federer, bidding for a record sixth title at the tournament, looked on course for a quick-fire victory when he ripped through the opening set in 21 minutes but he lost his way early in the second and the outcome was in the balance until Tsonga wavered in the final game of an entertaining opener.
Despite ending the year without a grand slam title for the first time since 2002 and his lowest ranking since 2003, Federer arrived in London tipped as favorite after winning back-to-back indoor titles in Basel and Paris.
The way he began against Tsonga did nothing to suggest otherwise, although he was helped by his opponent’s errors.
Tsonga saved one match point with a hefty first serve but could do nothing on the next as Federer’s miss-hit return spun awkwardly over the net, forcing his opponent into no-man’s land and allowing the Swiss to roll a backhand into an open court.
“In the first set I didn’t put one ball in court,” Tsonga, beaten by Federer in the Paris Masters final, told reporters. “I think he was a bit surprised because I played so badly in the first set, then I played correctly.
“I’m just disappointed because I didn’t play like that the whole match.” Later on the opening day Rafael Nadal took on debutant Mardy Fish of the United States, also in Group B.

Reuters contributed to this report