Israel’s Dudi Sela crashed out of the Australian Open on Tuesday.
Sela, 24, never hit his stride during his four-set defeat by Ukranian Ivan Sergeyev on Court 19 at Melbourne Park, despite the support of about 100 exuberant fans, including Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem who travelled from Canberra to see Israel’s top men’s player in action.
Rotem was also hoping to watch Shahar Peer in her first-round match, but bad weather on Monday forced her tie against Czech Lucie Hradecka to be postponed until Wednesday.
Two sets down, the diminutive Israeli, ranked 41 in the world, looked out but managed to win the third set 6-4 before taking the fourth to a tie break, where he had a set point to send the match to a deciding fifth set.
Sela failed to convert, and on Sergeyev's third match point, the 21-year-old qualifier ranked world No 209 clinched the tie 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Sela whose preparations had been hampered by an eye virus. “I don’t feel 100 per cent. It affected my game but he played much better than me.”
The Israeli seemed out of sorts from the first set, which he lost 6-3.
In the second, Sela led 5-4 and was 30-0 ahead on Sergeyev’s serve but blew his lead and was outclassed in the tie-break, which he lost 7-3.
Sela, who reached the semi-finals of the Chennai Open in India a fortnight ago but was dumped out of the Sydney International in the first round last week, rekindled his feistiness in the third set, which he took 6-4.
“If I would have won the fourth set it would be a different story because he was getting tired,” he said.
The Israeli pocket rocket seemed to have gone unnoticed by Australians for Palestine, a Melbourne-based group that planned a protest on Tuesday against Shahar Peer, who was besieged by a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators a fortnight ago in New Zealand.
Ironically, a small group of business-like people waving placards saying “Shahar Peer serves for Apartheid Israel” gathered outside Melbourne Park during Sela’s match, apparently unaware another Israeli was competing.
The Australians for Palestine Web site called for a sports boycott against Israel, which is described as an “apartheid state” that imposed a “draconian siege” on Gaza.
Wayne Odesnik faces Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, the 27th seed, in the second round.
Israeli doubles aces Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich are both in the men’s draw, although they are no longer partners; Ram plays with Arnaud Clement and Erich with Peter Llorda – ironically, they are the French veterans whom Ram and Erlich beat in the men’s doubles final at the 2008 Australian Open.
Peer and Sela are both scheduled to play in their respective doubles tournament.
Harel Levy and Noam Okun were eliminated in the qualifying rounds last week.