Dudi Sela

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

“I didn’t think about how I was making history as the first Israeli athlete to play in Dubai.”

When Israeli tennis legend Andy Ram learned in August that Israelis will soon be able to fly directly to the United Arab Emirates, he was shocked and pleased and had a déjà-vu moment.

Ram’s illustrious doubles career, mostly with fellow Israel tennis player Jonathan “Yoni” Ehrlich, included three Grand Slam championships, multiple opportunities to represent Israel at the Olympics and the Davis Cup, and some exciting and harrowing behind-the-scenes dealings with the then-unfriendly Arab nation. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP, the leading international men’s tennis organization) once paid Ram to not play tennis in Dubai, then one year later reversed course and exerted pressure to grant permission for Ram to play there.

Ram, who retired from professional tennis six years ago, reflected on his tennis career, current projects and Dubai experiences during a recent Zoom “Lunch and Learn” session for 70 people with the Israel Tennis and Education Center (ITEC).

Ram’s tennis career began when he wasn’t allowed to play soccer. Ram’s Israeli father was injured and endured three surgeries during his years playing professional soccer for Beitar Jerusalem. His father then went to Uruguay on shlichut (as an emissary), where he met Andy’s mother.

“Because of his soccer injuries, he didn’t allow me to play soccer.”

The Ram family moved back to Israel when Ram was five. At that young age, he started playing tennis at the Israel Tennis Centers in Jerusalem and was hooked immediately.

“I was jealous of the kids who were playing tennis at (the main center in) Ramat Hasharon.” Ram moved to Ramat Hasharon and to the Wingate Institute at age 14 for more intensive training.

Ram turned pro in 1996 at the age of 16 and began practicing regularly with future doubles partner Yoni Erlich. The two actually first met when Ram was 10.

“I was three years younger. I had a dream to play with Yoni and I asked him to play together in the juniors.” The two did not compete in a Grand Slam tournament until 2001, when they played doubles at Wimbledon.

Ram has spent most of his career playing both men’s doubles and mixed doubles. In 2003, Ram and Erlich entered the prestigious Wimbledon tournament through the qualifiers and reached the semifinals. That same year, Ram and Anastasia Rodionova of Russia reached the mixed doubles finals, losing to Martina Navratilova and Leander Paes.

RAM CONTINUED to experience success in both men’s doubles and mixed doubles throughout the 2000s. In 2003, Ram and Erlich won both the Thailand Open and a tournament in Lyon, France. Ram won the mixed doubles title with Vera Zvonareva at the 2006 Wimbledon Championships. He then won the mixed doubles title at the 2007 French Open with Nathalie Dechy, and the men’s doubles title at the 2008 Australian Open with Erlich.

Following Ram and Erlich’s Australian Open victory at the end of January 2008, the pair wanted to play in March’s Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship.

“There were lots of points and big money to be won there,” Ram tells the people on the ITEC webinar. “Under sports law, they must let all people play in this tournament, so we applied for a visa and we got tickets. The Dubai government didn’t let us go.” Ram then shared the shocking story of how the ATP “didn’t let us go. The ATP convinced us – after we got our tickets – not to go. They gave us $10,000, paid for our canceled tickets and suggested we play in the February Delray Beach International Tennis Championships. We said okay!”

Ram and the ATP took a very different approach in 2009 when the idea of playing in Dubai resurfaced. “Yoni was injured, and I needed to earn and defend points. I told the ATP with two months’ notice that I have the right to go.”

In February of the same year, Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe’er was denied a visa by the UAE for the Dubai Tennis Championship. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), the main organizing body of women’s professional tennis, fined Dubai Tennis Championships organizers a record $300,000. US tennis star Andy Roddick said at the time that he wouldn’t defend the title he won there in 2008.

According to Ram, “The ATP said, ‘If there is no visa for Andy Ram, we will cancel the tournament.’ Dubai said they would give me a visa.”

This is where Ram’s circuitous, wild Dubai adventure begins.

“There were no flights. And the Mossad called. I don’t know how they knew I was planning to go! They are the Mossad. They said, ‘We know you want to go. You can’t!’”

Ram and the Zoom audience laughed.

“I flew to Paris. I was at the counter three hours before the flight. The lady said, ‘You can’t go.’ Seconds before the flight was to take off, they let me on the flight. I thought they [would all want] to kill me – so I started to speak Spanish! When we landed, I became like the prime minister. Some 15 people took me off the flight and took my bags. We stayed at a bulletproof hotel. We were the only ones there; all of the other players stayed in a different hotel. They blocked off the whole floor and I had 24/7 bodyguards, and I had to use the name Mr. Smith. Later, I realized my hotel was only two minutes from the tennis center; they had driven me around and around for two hours to get there!

“And when we went to a restaurant with 60 people, 50 people left with me! They were all part of our entourage. At my matches, there was one court just for me. Only 100 people were allowed to watch, and no phones. The name ‘Ram’ appeared but no country.”

The Zoom audience was mesmerized, clearly hearing this story for the first time.

“When I look back, this was the most important thing I have done in my career. It was a statement about what I was fighting for!”

RAM’S PERSEVERANCE in 2008 and 2009 seems to have paid off. Israeli tennis players and other athletes will presumably have no trouble traveling to Dubai from now on. In the recent deal, Israel and the UAE agreed to exchange ambassadors, enhance commercial ties here, enable medical tourism with Sheba Medical Center, create security relationships and much more. They will also allow direct flights between the two countries – something Ram would have enjoyed. The UAE will become only the third Arab country to have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Ram is still making sense of the news and its implications.

“When I was playing tennis, I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about how I was making history as the first Israeli athlete to play in Dubai. Now, to see the skies open to Dubai is unbelievable. I never thought it would happen!”

As the always-gregarious Ram looks back on his 30-year career, he reports nostalgically, “What I got from tennis, I can’t describe in words. Everything I have in life is through the Israel Tennis Centers. I met my wife through tennis at age 10, had my first kiss at age 16, and now have three kids! What I received from tennis, you can’t get from other sports.”

Ram continues to be loved and respected throughout Israel and the tennis world. Kevin Green, ITEC international chair, reports, “We are so proud of Andy and what he has accomplished in his career; from representing Israel in his Davis Cup victories, to winning major titles at Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open. Beyond his professional accomplishments, Andy’s work ethic, humility and warmth make him an inspiration to all of us. He sets a shining example that when you have a dream, work hard and focus, anything is possible. He is an international treasure and a celebrated global ITEC ambassador.”

Erez Vider, global CEO of ITEC, adds, “Andy Ram is a legend for tennis in Israel and for the ITEC’s children since he won three Grand Slams in tennis. He is a living example that everything is possible. Dreams can come true if one has the will and will get a fair chance. Anyone can become a winner in tennis and in life through our programs.”

Despite his status as a tennis legend, Ram is much like any Israeli parent these days – dealing with the uncertainly of school starting up and finding ways to keep his children occupied in the age of COVID-19. Andy, wife Shiri, and children ages 11, 9 and 5 live in north Tel Aviv. Ram is enjoying the extra time he gets to spend with his family.

“We make the best out if out – the same as it was when I was on the court – trying to look on the good side of things.”

DESPITE PLANNING to not work in tennis after his retirement, Ram has found his way back. In 2015, Ram became CEO of Pulse Play, a wearable tennis technology app startup. (He reports he closed the company about one year ago.) And he started a foundation within the Israel Tennis Centers in memory of his father “to help kids with their dreams of becoming pros.”
Ram has become passionate about helping young Israelis reach the top levels in professional tennis. And he has the reputation, personality and finesse to bring together the Israel Tennis Centers, the Israel Tennis Association and other key players to achieve this goal.

“I really believe that in a few more years, we will see the next Dudi (Sela) and Shahar (Pe’er). This is the reason I started it.” He points to Mika Buchnik, 13, and Israeli Bedouin Karin al-Touri, 14, as two female players he sees on track to achieve tennis greatness.

In addition to his efforts to produce the next Israeli Roger Federer or Serena Williams, he teaches classes at Ono Academic College, his alma mater, and gives motivational speeches and presents workshops for Israeli companies.

While Ram played his last US Open in 2013, he still stays abreast of news of the Grand Slam event, which took place August 31 to September 13 in New York – with no fans present.

“It is such an operation. It is one of the biggest sports events in the world, next to the Olympics. It is two weeks and big money. It will be interesting to see how they get back and manage to pull it off; the rest of the sports world will follow. I am really looking forward!”

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The Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Querrey’s lightning serve helped him dictate the match to win in a quick one hour and twenty minutes.

The enthusiastic chants of the partisan New York crowd could not carry Dudi Sela to victory in his second round US Open match Wednesday evening against world No. 21 Sam Querrey.

Querrey’s lightning serve helped him dictate the match on the way to a 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 win in a quick one hour and twenty minutes.

“You know, he is serving big and on my service game I was playing with a lot of pressure,” Sela told The Jerusalem Post. “I was not free, the points were so quick, I didn’t feel the match I didn’t even have time to change my shirt! It was really quick and there was no rhythm. I hate these types of matches. I usually put a lot of balls back. Today I couldn’t. From the first point, I couldn’t — he hit three aces in the first game. It was really difficult.”

Querrey jumped off to a quick 1-0 lead in the first set with Sela then holding serve. Querrey went up 3-1 and Sela fought back to tie at 4-4.

Querrey closed out the 29-minute set 6-4. The second set lasted just 22 minutes, and despite putting up a better fight in the third set, Sela couldn’t muster a comeback.

“He had one look where I broke him in the first set and he broke me right back,” said Querrey. “But then I was able to break him again to win that set. And once I won the first set, I gained a little more confidence and played even more aggressive, swung more freely and started to play better and better.

“Dudi is a tricky player. He’s got a fan club behind him, and they are loud and cheering on their guy.”

Sela is set to be in action in the doubles tournament on Thursday, teaming up with Steve Darcis of Belgium to face David Marrero of Spain and Benoit Paire of France in the first round.

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Original Post Published at The Jerusalem Post

Israeli beaten in five sets by Cuevas; Djokovic, Nadal overcome wrist injuries to advance.

Dudi Sela was knocked out in the first round of a Grand Slam event for the fifth time in the past six tournaments on Monday, losing a five-set thriller to No. 18 seed Pablo Cuevas in the US Open in New York.

The 31-year-old Israeli, ranked No. 80 in the world, battled back from two sets down to force a decider, but required treatment on his right hand at the start of the fifth set and was beaten 6-3, 6-2, 0-6, 5-7, 6-3 after three hours and two minutes.

“I started off playing really bad, I was tight. Then in the third set, I broke him and held and I played a little better and more aggressive and took charge of the match from that point,” Sela told The Jerusalem Post. “I then had cramping in my fingers and had a hard time holding the racket when serving. I also had cramping in my shoulder and then I made too many mistakes.”

Sela, who will remain in Flushing Meadows to take part in the men’s doubles tournament with Frenchman Stephane Robert, was playing in his first event since the Rio Olympics.

“It was a great experience. It was very different from any other tournaments I have played in,” he said. “It was my first time in the Olympics. The Israel delegation was really professional and really good.”

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic opened the defense of his US Open title with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 win over Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz on Monday, but the labored performance gave rise to fresh concerns about the world number one’s fitness.

After a sizzling start to the season that brought grand slam wins No. 11 and 12 at the Australian and French Opens, Djokovic’s form has plummeted, with a third-round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon followed by a first-round exit at the Rio Olympics.

The Serb might have been in trouble on another day at Flushing Meadows but Janowicz, ranked 246 places below Djokovic, has advanced from the first round just once in four previous US Open visits and looked unlikely to do it again on Monday.

Djokovic, a US Open finalist five of the last six years, next faces Czech Jiri Vesely.

Djokovic arrived in New York having been hampered by a left wrist injury and distracted by undisclosed “private matters” and on Monday trainers were called out early in the opening set to work on his right forearm.

Several times during the two hour, 37 minute match, Djokovic could be seen grimacing when hitting his powerful forehand, while his serve rarely looked threatening, stuck at around 100 mph.

“It was just prevention, it’s all good,” Djokovic told reporters.

“Look, each day presents us some kind of challenges that we need to accept and overcome.

“After all I’ve been through in the last couple of weeks it’s pleasing to finish the match and win it.”

The year’s final grand slam got off to a glitzy Hollywood-style start, with a performance from Phil Collins to mark the arrival of the $150 million retractable roof at the stadium.

Rafa Nadal was worn out from his Rio Olympics exertions after emerging from an injury absence to win doubles gold, but the Spaniard perked back up with his trip to New York for the US Open.

Nadal, who said his injured wrist is improving daily, beat Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, in his firstround match on Monday.

“The most important thing is I’m here in New York and that makes me happy,” said Spain’s 14-times grand slam winner, who could not continue through the French Open and also missed Wimbledon and the Toronto event due to his wrist injury.

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Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

Dudi Sela, the only Israeli player in the main draw, was practicing at the US Open on Friday with hitting partner, American Sam Querrey, ranked No. 32 in the world.

When the US Open draw ceremony took place Friday morning at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, several coveted spots for the Grand Slam tennis event, which gets under way on Monday, were marked with the word “qualifier.”

The names of the men and women filling these 16 spots would not be known until the end of the day Friday. These 16 men and women are the lucky 32 players out of 256 who won three matches in last week’s US Open Qualifying Tournament to advance to the first round of the main draw.

The US Open Qualifying Tournament typically includes players ranked between 105 and 250 in the world.

Israeli tennis players Julia Glushko and Amir Weintraub won first-round matches last Tuesday.

Weintraub, ranked 209, defeated American Daniel Nguyen, but lost in the second round to ninth-seeded Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic. Stepanek has competed in 14 previous US Open tournaments and reached the fourth round in 2009.

Glushko, ranked No. 148, needed just under two hours to defeat 500th ranked Miharu Imanishi of Japan, 6-4, 7-5 in her first-round match. She lost to American Jennifer Brady, the 18th seed in the qualifying tournament, 6-4, 6-0. Weintraub and Glushko’s matches took place late Thursday evening and were interrupted by rain.

Despite Weintraub and Glushko’s status as top-ranked Israeli players, they must often compete in qualifying events for entry in major tennis tournaments.

In an effort to obtain ranking points, Weintraub often elects to enter lower level Futures and Challenger Tour events.

Weintraub has been outspoken about the pleasures, stresses and financial challenges he faces on the professional tennis tour.

“I will cover a lot of miles, sleep in a lot of hotel rooms, eat in a lot of restaurants, and get to see a lot of amazing cities,” he said. “And when I have a few minutes of down time, I look forward to talking to friends and family on WhatsApp, catching up with a few of my favorite TV series on the computer, and taking videos of funny things from the tour.”

Glushko and Weintraub earned several thousand US dollars for advancing to the second round of the qualifiers.

Players reaching the first round of the main singles draw receive $43,313. Players reaching the round of 64 earn $77,118.

Tournament winners and runners up receive $3,500,000 and $1,750,000. Glushko and Weintraub have each earned slightly more than $50,000 to date in 2016.

Meanwhile, Noah Rubin, a 20-year-old Jewish Long Island native, reached the third round of the qualifiers before losing on Friday afternoon to Karen Khachanov of Russia, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

“It was tough, it was a roller coaster of a match. I had to fight,” Rubin told The Jerusalem Post in a post-match interview in the US Open Media Center.

“It was great to have people cheering for me and supporting me. I want to make them proud.”

Rubin, in his second year of professional tennis, reached a career-high ranking of 160 and returns to tennis after a two-anda- half month absence due to a foot injury. Rubin will soon travel to Asia for a few tournaments then return to the US for the indoor tournament season. He hopes to qualify for the Australian Open in January.

Rubin, who celebrated his bar mitzva with a tennis theme, is proud of his Judaism. His sister participated in a Birthright trip, and although he has not yet been to Israel he says he “want[s] to go very badly. I want to get out there. Maybe on Birthright, or for a tournament or on vacation – once things settle down in my career.”

Dudi Sela, the only Israeli player in the main draw, was practicing at the US Open on Friday with hitting partner, American Sam Querrey, ranked No. 32 in the world. They practiced in the prestigious Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Sela, ranked No. 80, will face Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay on Monday in his first-round match. Cuevas, ranked 20th in the world, is the 18th seed in the US Open. They also met in the first round in New York last year, with Cuevas winning in four sets. With play beginning at 11am EST, the Sela-Cuevas match is the third match of the day on Court 4.

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