Sinai Says: A maddening tale of two Dudis

It is impossible to predict what you’ll see when Sela steps out on the court.

Sela 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Sela 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
One of the main reasons Dudi Sela is such a fascinating player is the fact that it is impossible to predict what you’ll see when he steps out on the court.
He’s simply capable of anything – from the ridiculous to the sublime.
The only thing Sela seems to do consistently well is play erratically.
He’s been erratic throughout his career, erratic over tournaments and sometimes even erratic during a single match.
The 25-year-old can play the most magical of shots one minute, and commit the most horrendous of unforced errors the next.
He plays tennis in an ingenuous manner, which is so rare in a generation where athletes have increasingly become brands and sports are a business rather than a game.
Sela’s style of play is a mirror of his persona off court.
If you have to choose one Israeli athlete with whom to go out for a drink, you should look no further than Sela.
Funny, frank and fickle, Sela is a journalist’s dream and he enjoys a night on the town just as much as any average young man his age, which is far more than the norm in the sporting world.
All of this makes Sela a great guy, but sadly it also affects his tennis game.
Israel’s No. 1 male dropped out of the world’s top-100 last week for the first time since January 2009, plummeting to No. 104 in the ATP rankings.
He climbed two places this past Monday, but that still leaves Sela more than 40 spots from the position he held just one month ago.
It is easy to put Sela’s fall down to his first-round defeat at Wimbledon to Mikhail Youzhny. After reaching the last 16 last year, Sela’s early exit cost him many valuable ranking points.
However, this would be simplifying the matter too much.
For Sela has slumped down the rankings so quickly for the same reason he rises up them so fast – his inconsistency.
And when there’s instability issues away from the tennis court, matters become far more volatile.
Sela is without a full-time coach at the moment, something he has gotten used to throughout the years.
After being ranked as high as No. 3 in the world as a junior, Sela struggled to make the transition to the senior ranks. He broke into the world’s top-200 in August 2005, but for the next two years, battled in vain to crack the top-100.
All of that changed when by pure chance he finally found a full-time coach. His good friend Yoav Shav had decided to quit professional tennis at the age of 22 in May 2007 after failing to even make the world’s top 1000. Sela, who at the time was roaming the globe all alone in the depressing Challenger circuit, suggested that Shav become his coach. The partnership quickly paid dividends.
Shav’s tennis knowledge, and perhaps more importantly his friendship, helped Sela find his focus and it showed on court. Sela soon shot up the rankings and ended 2007 at No. 64 in the world.
In 2008, Sela became the first Israeli to play in an ATP Tour final in more than seven years, and despite dropping out of the top-100 at the end of the year, he was back firing on all cylinders the following season.
Sela reached a career best No. 29 in July after progressing to the fourth round at Wimbledon, only to struggle in the remainder of the year, losing eight straight matches at one stage.
The unexpected crisis resulted in panic and led to a breakup with Shav in October.
Things went from bad to worse after that.
Later that month, Sela teamed-up with a team of coaches, including Amos Mansdorf, Israel’s greatest ever player, and former Israel Davis Cup and Fed Cup captain Oded Jacob.
However, it quickly became clear that the new arrangement could not work and Sela found himself traveling coach-less yet again.
His results soon took another downward turn and after failing to find a coach abroad, Sela began working with Israeli Tommy Shnitzer in the past month.
After his first-round exits at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Sela told me that he is very pleased with the way he is playing and is confident the results will soon follow.
That remains to be seen.
Sela began the North American hard-court season overnight with a openinground match against Donald Young in the Atlanta Tennis Championships, and after doing so poorly in these events last year, he has got a golden opportunity to rackup plenty of points and surge up the rankings.
Sela’s unpredictability may be one of the reasons he is such a captivating player.
However, without stability, both on and off the court, he will never realize his potential, and that is something Israeli sports simply cannot afford.