Play for the soldiers: Israeli Sela in BB&T Open tennis finals today in Atlanta

A tennis court in Atlanta is far from Gaza, but as Israeli Dudi Sela has a chance to make history this afternoon, the conflict isn’t far from his mind.

The Kiryat Shmona native said he has given “100 percent effort” in honor of the soldiers back home as he plays the BB&T Atlanta Open. He advanced to today’s finals last night, defeating Benjamin Becker 6-3, (3-6), 6-3.

“I think I played pretty good in the first and at the beginning of the second set,” said Sela. “I’m happy there is (this opportunity to) challenge and I played much better after that.”

The finals match will be broadcast on ESPN2 starting at 3 p.m. Central.

Sela now lives in Tel Aviv, which has been targeted by Hamas rocket fire. He said it is very emotional when he hears fans in the stands urging him to play for the soldiers.

Sela notched his 100th tour win on Friday.

Today he will face defending BB&T Open champion John Isner, looking for revenge after a loss to Isner earlier this year in a third-set tiebreaker.

For Sela, this is his second time in an ATP World Tour event final. In 2008 he made the finals in Beijing but lost to Andy Roddick.

The last time an Israeli won an ATP event was in 1993, when Amos Mansdorf won in Washington.

Sela is ranked No. 94 in the world, while Isner is ranked 12th. Isner has home-court advantage, having played for the University of Georgia.

Sela has become a celebrity in Israel for his tennis play. When he made a run to the Top 16 at Wimbledon in 2009, fans did a riff off a childhood song, “Dudi, Melech Yisrael” (Dudi, King of Israel).

This month, a video of him has gone viral, with over a million views. At 5-foot-9, he stood on a chair to hug Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who is 6-foot-10, for the post-match handshake following a match in Colombia that Karlovic won.

Update: Sela lost the match in straight sets.