Tennis: Pe'er makes a strong start in Qatar

Israel's number one beats Slovenian Andreja Klepac in first round of tournament in Gulf state.

peer victorious (photo credit: AP)
peer victorious
(photo credit: AP)
After all the hype and debate over her trailblazing trip to Qatar, on Monday it was time for Israel's number one Shahar Pe'er to get down to the job at hand. And the world number 17 made a strong start to the Qatar Open in Doha, defeating Slovenian Andreja Klepac 6-3, 6-4 in the first round, setting up a second round clash with Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano. Pe'er made history with her participation in the tournament, the first time an Israeli tennis player has played at an event in a Gulf state. Israel does not have formal diplomatic ties with Qatar, although Israel has had a trade office in the Gulf state since 1996 and maintains a small economic interest section in Doha that the Qataris kept open even during the height of Palestinian violence. Pe'er's Fed Cup doubles partner Tzipi Obziler was due to follow suit by competing in the qualifiers for the Barclays tournament in Dubai next week but reportedly has decided not to play, as her trainer was not given permission to travel to the state which has no ties at all with Israel. Pe'er had been due to play Italian Francesca Schiavone in the first round in Doha but the withdrawal of Daniela Hantuchova from the tournament forced a change in the draw. The Israeli is seeded 13th in the $2.5 million event, which has attracted the majority of the world's top players - including Maria Sharapova, who beat Pe'er 6-1, 6-1 in the Fed Cup two weeks ago. On Monday, Pe'er struggled in both sets against Klepac, who is ranked 133 in the world and qualified for the tournament as a lucky loser. But the Israeli came back into form each time to win convincingly. Both broke each other's serve in the opening games before Pe'er finally held serve to go 5-3 up and then took the first set. The second set went with serve until Pe'er broke in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead and then served out to win the match and book a place in round two. Despite the positive result, Pe'er admitted that she didn't perform as she had hoped in a match which saw 10 breaks of serve in 19 games. "I did not play so well. There were many breaks of serve during the match and I was not able to take control," she said. "I began the match well and was 40-15 up in the first four games but I just couldn't take the crucial points and close the games out. But all in all I won, and that is what is important; I hope to play better in my next match." The 20-year-old star has always tried to keep her feet on the ground and remained calm ahead of the second round. "I am not excited because this is only the first match at Doha. I came here to play tennis and I am concentrating on winning." Pe'er complained about the "apathetic" crowd at Doha. "There weren't many spectators at the start of the match, although it began to fill up. The crowd wasn't so good and didn't root for either of the players." Looking toward her match against Razzano, who is ranked 27 in the world, Pe'er said: "I have a very difficult match coming up. I lost to her twice last year so I feel like this is the time to beat her. I will need to play well to win. We have trained together over the last few days and I hope I will play well." Before beginning the tournament, Pe'er attended a reception in her honor hosted by Israel's trade representative in Qatar, Roi Rosenblatt. Israel's doubles duo of Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich are currently in Rotterdam where they will compete in the ABN Amro tournament. The singles event began on Monday when Teimuraz Gabashvili upset seventh-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-5, 6-1 in the opening round.