Sela marches on in convincing fashion

Dudi to face '08 finalist Tsonga; Pe'er loses in pairs; Venus out, Serena, Nadal advance

Dudi Sela 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Dudi Sela 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Dudi Sela became the first Israeli man in 15 years to advance to the third round of a Grand Slam singles tournament on Thursday, defeating Victor Hanescu 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 in the second round of the Australian Open in Melbourne. Amos Mansdorf was the last Israeli man to reach a third round of one of the four Grand Slam events, progressing to the round of 32 in Wimbledon in 1994. Sela (106 in the world), who came through three qualifying rounds to advance to the main draw, never allowed Hanescu (44) to find his footing on Thursday and outplayed the Romanian in seemingly all the important points. The 23-year-old Israeli saved all 12 of Hanescu's break points, while converting five of his own 12 break attempts, on his way to a straight-set victory in just one hour and 54 minutes. "It wasn't as easy as the score indicates," Sela said. "There's a very strong wind here, but I've learned to use it to my advantage, even though I usually don't like playing in windy conditions. I lost to Hanescu in the first round of the French Open last year so this is a little revenge." In the round of 32 on Saturday, Sela faces an extremely tough encounter in world number six, and fifth-seeded, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman, last year's runner-up, claimed a tough 6-7 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-6 (7), 6-2 win over Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia on Thursday despite struggling with a back injury. "I know Tsonga quite well and I'm aware of his strengths and weaknesses," Sela said. "I have nothing to lose and I hope I can surprise him. I'm playing well and I'm optimistic." Elsewhere, Shahar Pe'er followed up her first round exit from the singles tournament with a first round defeat in the doubles event on Thursday, losing with partner Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-3 to Russian pair Alla Kudryavtseva and Ekaterina Makarova. The Israeli, however, has not yet ended her participation in this year's Australian Open as she will be playing in the first round of the mixed doubles tournament with Swede Robert Lindstedt on Friday. Also Friday, Andy Ram, and Max Mirnyi, who are seeded ninth in the men's doubles tournament, face Spain's Davis Cup-winning doubles team of Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco in the second round. Meanwhile, Venus Williams squandered a match point before losing 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 to 46th-ranked Carla Suarez Navarro in the biggest upset so far at the Australian Open. Williams hardly looked like the reigning Wimbledon champion against the 20-year-old Spaniard, who reached the French Open quarterfinals last year as a qualifier in her first Grand Slam. Usually the aggressor with her powerful shots, sixth-seeded Williams was sluggish Thursday as she was broken while serving for the match and dropped the last five games with the crowd cheering loudly for Suarez Navarro to finish off the victory. Serena Williams struggled earlier and headed to the practice courts after a 6-3, 7-5 win over Argentina's Gisela Dulko, ranked 45th. Williams gave her performance a "D-minus at best." Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, got high marks for a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over Croatia's Roko Karanusic. His potential semifinal rival, fourth-ranked Andy Murray, wasn't seriously challenged in his first real test either, ousting 51st-ranked Marcel Granollers of Spain 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in 1 hour and 50 minutes. The top-ranked Nadal has dropped only 11 games in six sets and next faces Germany's Tommy Haas, who beat Flavio Cipolla of Italy. Murray only had to be on court only 45 minutes in Tuesday's stifling heat before Andrei Pavel retired with a back injury. With Scottish flags and tartan hats scattered around Rod Laver Arena on a cool Thursday night, Murray had 37 winners to 18 for Granollers. He credited a rigorous offseason training program for his early-season success. Murray already won the tune-up event last week in Sydney and also took an exhibition tournament in Qatar two weeks ago.