Dudi Sela always has his phone at the ready. It’s how the Israeli tennis player finds out whether his newborn back home is okay. It’s how he knows whether anything has happened near his parents’ residence in Tel Aviv. He holds his breath and hopes for good news.
“It’s not easy to take a baby to a shelter at 3 in the morning,” Sela said. “Almost all day long I get messages and calls about what’s going on.”
The Israelis at this week’s Citi Open — Sela and doubles player Jonathan Erlich — divide their focus between playing tennis and making sure their families in Israel are safe.
“Half of my body and spirit is over there,” Erlich said.
Israel and Hamas have been engaged in a nearly month-long battle, both sides launching airstrikes against the other. Erlich was playing at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I., when he started getting text messages from his wife every time an alarm in Tel Aviv sent her and their children running to a bomb shelter. After that experience, he decided to fly them to the United States, but his parents and siblings remain there.
“You’re online all day long to see what’s going on, especially in the beginning when we didn’t know where everything was going,” Erlich said. “Now we more or less know what’s going on, but that first week, you never knew what was happening and so many rockets were coming in. Even in the Tel Aviv zone, we’re honestly not used to that.”
Sela and Erlich have received numerous questions from fellow players curious about the region. The Negev Israel Open, scheduled for mid-September in Tel Aviv, would be Israel’s first tournament since 1996, and some players have asked Sela about the area now that tensions between Israel and Hamas have escalated.
“A lot of players, they don’t know if they should come there or if the tournament is going to be canceled,” Sela said. “Hopefully, it won’t be. Tel Aviv is a great place, and the players would love it there. I want them to come and see that Israel is not all camels like they think. It’s very advanced and modern.”
At Sela’s match against Aussie Sam Groth on Wednesday, men wearing yarmulkes and attire bearing Hebrew writing sat in the stands. A family from Austria cheered him on, supporting him as a symbol of supporting Israel.
Sela, No.88 on the ATP Tour and the highest-ranked Israeli singles player, played 12th-ranked John Isner in the Atlanta Open final last weekend. A win would have made him the first Israeli to win an ATP Tour title since Amos Mansdorf in Washington 21 years ago. Sela said he heard some Israelis yelling to him from the stands during the match, motivating him.
“Especially here in the States, so many people are coming to watch,” Sela said. “It’s special to hear Hebrew from the crowd. Not all of the players get that.”