Wednesday 22 February 2012

Love Story: Shahar Peer and the Dubai Tournament

During a press conference after her last Fed Cup match three weeks ago, Shahar Peer was asked what her plans for the following period were. She answered "I'm going on Sunday to Paris, and then to Doha and Dubai. That's it, 3 tournaments and afterwards I have the US swing - like every year (smile)". At the time, she was on the entry list to Doha, but her ranking wasn't enough to put her in the main draw for Dubai.

About a week later, an article in the Israeli press mentioned that Peer was originally going to skip Dubai, and that she tried to get a Wild Card to play in the smaller tournament in Memphis, but was denied. At the time, it seemed as if Peer's only option would be to play in the qualifying draw in Dubai, if she wished to enter the tournament.

However, two days before the start of the tournament (after the qualifying matches already started without her), it turned out that Peer, in fact, got a Wild Card to play in Dubai's main draw. A lot of eyebrows (including both of my own) were raised at that, as back in 2009 the UAE denied her a visa to play in the tournament, for what seemed to be political reasons. In the aftermath, the tournament organizers were forced to pay a fine, and to post large sums of money as guarantees for the 2010 edition of the tournament. They were also obliged to give Peer a WC in 2010, if she couldn't qualify for the event directly. This obligation turned out to be unnecessary, and Peer played in the tournament with great success, reaching the semifinals in 2010 and the quarterfinals in 2011.

I admit that when I first heard about the WC, I was sure that this was an extension of the original sanctions in some way - I couldn't think of a situation in which the organizers of the tournament would voluntarily invite Shahar Peer (ISR) to play in Dubai once again. In the past years, she spent her time out of competition sequestered in a separate lodging, with enforced security. All of her matches were scheduled at the same distant court, in the same hour of the morning, with minimal presence allowed. The only change came in the QF in 2011, when she played the no. 1 seed Wozniacki - the tournament was forced to move her to a court that allowed TV cameras to be installed, though it still wasn't the main court of the complex.

This hasn't changed this year - both her singles matches (she lost in the 2nd round to A. Radwanska today) and her doubles match were played as the first matches on the same "Court no. 1" she knows so well. However, despite all the special measures that Peer's presence forces on the organizers, it seems that this time, the tournament indeed invited her to play. Apparently, Peer "has made such a good impression [in Dubai] in the last two years", that the tournament director, Salah Tahlak, gave her the wild card. Moreover, the Israeli press reports that Peer's camp has been in contact with Tahlak for some weeks already, including a meeting on the issue during the Australian Open. Peer's camp were quoted to say that they're "in a great contact with the organizers of the Dubai tournament, and are happy that they chose to do this brave and noble act. It proves that it's a progressive country and they're willing to bridge over all the political issues through sports".

P.S. The tournament's official twitter account was tweeting all the matches' results today... except for Peer's. I guess she hasn't made an impression on them, yet ;)

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