Dudi Sela continued his dominance at the Odlum Brown VanOpen on Sunday, winning the Hollyburn-hosted tennis event for the fourth time in 11 years.
The Israeli pro, ranked No. 100 in the world, knocked off Australia’s John-Patrick Smith 6-4, 7-5 to add another trophy to his collection that already includes fancy VanOpen glass rackets labeled 2005, 2008 and 2010. The win made Sela the fifth player ever to win four-plus titles at a single ATP Challenger event, and with 24 tournament victories he’s now in sole possession of second place on the all-time Challenger titles list, breaking a tie with Japanese veteran Go Soeda.
Tournament director Ryan Clark joked following Sunday’s victory that Hollyburn’s centre court should be renamed Sela Court. So how can the seemingly unstoppable player be prevented from winning again here? Sela has some ideas.
“I think you should not let me in here anymore,” he told the crowd after the match, drawing a big laugh. “You need a different champion next time.”
This year Smith was hoping to be that different champion and he put up a good fight in the second set as Sela started to unravel following a close call that didn’t go his way.
Already up a break, Sela believed he had won a point to give him a 4-2 lead, dropping his racket to celebrate. The ball, however, was called in and the game continued with Smith eventually earning a break to tie up the set while Sela stormed about the court, still upset about the call.
The two players then exchanged some brilliant points through the next four games — Smith bashing away with his big lefty serve and Sela countering with incredible backhand returns — before Sela earned a break to go up 6-5 and serve for the match. After the match Sela talked about the call that got him fired up and his reaction to it.
“It was tough because it was 6-4, 3-2 advantage to finish the game and suddenly a bad call — you start thinking too much about the umpire and everything is changing, the momentum, he hits a good shot. I tried to keep positive and play my tennis, tried to play what worked before, stick to my strategy…. I think at five-all I played a really good game, I returned and I broke him and I finished pretty good. I think it was my best match of the week.”
In the end Sela found himself standing in the middle of the court holding a trophy and talking to the crowd, just as he first did in 2005. Things have changed a lot since then.
“I remember 11 years ago when I was here I was very nervous,” he said. “Now I feel at home.”
Things have also changed off the court as well, with Sela now the father of an 18-month-old son and his wife expecting another child in October.
“She was watching the match on the Internet today, maybe with the kid,” he said, adding that his boy has already shown an interest in the sport. “He’s walking with a racket and a ball screaming “Boom! Tennis! Boom!”
And there’s bad news for next year’s field — with VanOpen organizers showing no interest in following his suggestion to ban him from the tournament for winning too much, Sela said he hopes to be back and he won’t be taking pity on any opponents.
“Next time, I want to win again,” he said with a laugh.
The women’s draw also saw a repeat champion as Great Britain’s Johanna Konta scored an impressive 6-2, 6-4 win of Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium to earn her second VanOpen singles title, pairing this trophy with one she claimed in 2013. Like Sela, Konta can also make a few claims to owning centre court as she also won this year’s doubles title, teaming up with Maria Sanchez of the United States to knock off Romania’s Raluca Olaru and Anna Tatishvili of the United States in the women’s doubles final Saturday afternoon.
Konta certainly looked at home on the Hollyburn court, although she laughed when a reporter informed her after Sunday’s final that the club was located in a West Vancouver neighbourhood known as the British Properties.
“I didn’t know that. I had great support here. It helps that I’ve been here before and they’ve seen me around…. If you’re comfortable in your surroundings and in a good frame of mind then obviously you’re going to give yourself the best chance to play at your best.”
Konta said she’s not only never won any other tournament twice but she’s never even made it back to a tournament to defend a title before.
“This is a very new experience for me,” she said. “Obviously I’m overjoyed with how it turned out this week, but even if I hadn’t have won today or even made it this far I’m still very happy with the state of mind that I’m in and really looking forward to the next chance I get to step out there and compete.”
The 24-year-old — who has Hungarian parents, was born and raised in Australia but now competes for Great Britain after living there for several years — was bumped up to No. 96 in the world rankings after the win. She’s competing in qualifying for the U.S. Open this week.
Sunday’s other final saw another player hit repeat as Treat Huey of the Philippines won his third VanOpen men’s doubles title, all of them coming with different partners. This time it was Frederik Nielsen of Denmark who helped Huey claim the title with a 7-6(4), 6-7(3), 10-5 win over Yuki Bhambri of India and Michael Venus of New Zealand.