Pe'er returns to Kuznetsova during their third rou.
(photo credit: AP)
Shahar Pe’er admitted to crying with joy after rallying to beat 15th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 in her opening match at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Monday, a year after she had been denied a visa to the Emirates.
Authorities cited safety reasons for preventing Pe’er from playing last year, with tournament organizers saying they feared fan anger targeting her over Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
There were no signs of protests on the court Monday as the 22nd-ranked Pe’er scored an upset win over Wickmayer. But tournament organizers have restricted the Israeli’s movement to the tennis courts and her hotel, with Pe’er also being completely separated from the rest of the players, being given a private dressing room and gym.
“This was a very important victory for me,” said Pe’er, who was escorted onto the court by 16 bodyguards. “I felt very proud to represent Israel in a country that doesn’t recognize Israel. The victory gave me a huge amount of pleasure and I hope to continue and play well. I even cried with joy after winning.”
Pe’er said that despite the chaotic situation, she feels safe in Dubai.
“I’m receiving lots of support from Israel and that is very important to me,” she said. “We have been given a very warm reception and we feel very safe.”
Pe’er’s coach, Pablo Giacopelli, is concerned the extraordinary security measures might affect the Israeli’s performance on court.
“We knew it would be different, but it does complicate matters for us somewhat because Shahar is not used to this,” the Argentinian said. “Of course we understand the tournament’s view. They want her to be able to play tennis without anything happening to her.”
Pe’er got off to a troublesome start on Monday, being dominated by the Belgian’s power game from the baseline and twisting her ankle, before recovering in front of a small and courteous crowd at court No. 1 of the Aviation Club.
The crowd of about 100 spectators appeared to favor Wickmayer, but there were no visible displays of opposition to Pe’er during the 1 hour, 50 minute match.
“There are a lot of emotions coming after this win. It’s more than beating Yanina, it’s more of me handling all the stuff around and able to put everything on the side and just play tennis, and just concentrate on the [match] and not the politics,” Pe’er said.
“It was a lot of emotions for me and a really tough first round and I am so happy I was able to win this.”
Police security was tight during the match, with several plainclothes policemen mingling with the crowd. Captain Eesa, head of security of the Championship, was also present in the stands during the match.
Spectators had to pass through metal detectors and physical screening before making it to the court.
However, there were no untoward incidents during the match and although Wickmayer had better support, Pe’er received polite applause whenever she won points.
“I think the treatment I get from the people here is amazing, including the security. They are really kind, they are doing everything for me. Of course, there are a few restrictions,” Pe’er said. “But I am really enjoying my time here, and they take care nicely of me. It is fun for me, and whatever they do, they do it for my safety.”
As for the early stages of the match, Pe’er admitted: “I started pretty bad. I was very frozen and I didn’t move. I twisted my ankle on the second point and I was like ‘oh my God, I don’t need this. Finally I’m here and on the second point I might go home.’
“I really wanted to win this match, not only because of tennis, but because I want to make a statement that politics and sport should not be mixed.”
Last year, organizers were fined $300,000 by the WTA after denying Pe’er the opportunity to play.
Pe’er, who will face Virginie Razzano of France (24) in the second round of the $2 million event, also advanced to the second round of the doubles tournament on Monday.
Pe’er and Galina Voskoboeva defeated Caroline Wozniacki and Anabel Medina Garrigues 7-5, 4-6, 10-5 and will next play the fifth-seeded pairing of Francesca Schiavone and Alisa Kleybanova.AP contributed to this report