andy ram 88.
(photo credit: Lidor Goldberg / ITA)
Protected by two bodyguards as he walked on the court, Andy Ram became the first Israeli to play in Dubai on Wednesday.
A week-and-a-half after Shahar Pe'er was denied a visa for the women's tournament, Ram appeared relaxed and focused once he and partner Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe began the first-round match at the Dubai Tennis Championships against Marat Safin of Russia and Spain's David Ferrer.
The fourth-seeded Ram and Ullyet fell 6-3, 2-6, 10-8, but the result took nothing away from the history made by the Israeli.
There were no protests or incidents, with about 100 spectators, who had to leave their belongings outside, watching the match on a minor court.
Ram did not hold a presser afterward, but organizers issued a transcript of comments made to a pool reporter.
"It was obviously something big, history here, what's been done, the first Israeli coming to play sport in Dubai," Ram said. "I fought for something really, really big and coming here was something big because it showed that we should not involve sports with politics."
Ram was granted special permission late last week to play in Dubai after Pe'er was barred from entering the country for her tournament.
"It was different. It was an experience for me," Ram said. "They did everything possible to secure me. Coming to the court, obviously with a couple of bodyguards, was nice. I felt OK. As soon as we started the match, hitting the first shot to warm up, I was thinking tactics and concentrating to win the match, but it did not happen today."
Ram said he was well received in Dubai, encountering no hostility.
"Not at all, really," he said. "From the first moment I arrived to the airport, they took me to the hotel, treated me very good. I went out ... obviously with the body guards, the guys were watching me. Just really, they let me feel very comfortable."
The small stands around the court were about three-quarters full.
United Arab Emirates has no diplomatic relationship with Israel, but Israelis with dual citizenship have entered the country for international sports and business events using second-country passports.
The WTA fined the organizers of the Dubai women's tournament a record $300,000 last week and the UAE granted a permit to Ram to play this week.
Earlier in the day, Sela, who is playing in Delray Beach this week, caused a stir after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel quoted him as saying that Pe'er was also at fault for not being granted a visa to Dubai.
"I think it's a pity they didn't let Shahar play, but it's also the fault of Shahar because she asked for the visa a few days [or two weeks] before,"Sela was quoted as saying.
"The average person, if you want to go, you do it months before.
"Even so, it's still bad. It's sports, not war. Everybody should play."
Pe'er's brother and agent, Shlomi, reacted angrily, saying that Pe'er applied for a visa together with the WTA three months before the start of the tournament and that he has no clue where Sela got his wrong information from.
Later on in the evening, Sela apologized and claimed he was misquoted.
" I apologize to Shahar and to anyone who was hurt by the things I was wrongly quoted as saying."