There was a great article in the Independent today about Israeli player Andy Ram’s security detail at the Dubai Tennis Championships, where he’s become the first Israeli player to (be allowed) to play. Unfortunately for him, his presence there was still limited – he and his teammate Kevin Ullyett lost 6-3, 2-6, 10-8 in the first round to Marat Safin and David Ferrer. Ram’s regular partner, fellow Israeli Jonathan Erlich, is out with injury (and likely breathing a sigh of relief).
Andy Ram was gracious about his U.A.E. experience, saying that he was treated with kindness and respect by everyone, including hotel and tournament staff. He said “It was a nice experience for me coming here and obviously the first priority for everybody, including the tournament director and the ATP, was my security. They did everything possible to secure me. It was exciting, nice, different – not something bad.”
He also said Emirates was the best airline he’s ever flown – do you think he’ll be its next spokesman?
Here’s the scoop on all the excitment: sniffer dogs, body guards and snipers, oh my!
After police had patrolled the court with sniffer dogs, spectators were admitted through airport-style metal detectors at the only entrance, under the watchful eyes of security guards and soldiers. Snipers were said to be patrolling nearby rooftops, though they could not be seen. Mobile phones, bags and drinks were not allowed in. During the match thirsty spectators had to queue for water poured into plastic cups.
Barely 200 people were in the stand and most of them appeared to be Europeans and/or members of Safin’s female fan club. There was little noticeable support for Ram, but virtually no opposition either, with only one audible boo in the whole match and a brief chant of “loser, loser” at the end.
Ram put away smashes to win the first point and the first game – both to polite applause – but was the first to drop his serve, in the third game. Nevertheless, Ram and Ullyett – the Zimbabwean suggested the one-off partnership in the injury absence of the Israeli’s regular colleague, Jonathan Erlich – fought back well in the second set and the match was decided by a closely-fought champions’ tie-break.
The security was maintained post-match, with only one journalist allowed to interview Ram in his heavily guarded personal locker room, which was in a separate building from the main clubhouse. Ram was escorted to and from the court by bodyguards, who have been his constant companions here. . .
Asked what he thought of reported comments by Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who had apparently urged him to boycott the tournament following Peer’s exclusion, Ram said: “This was something big. This was history, the first Israeli coming to play sport in Dubai. I fought for something really, really big and coming here was something big.
“It showed that we should not involve sports with politics. The Prime Minister is a friend of mine, but he’s a politician and I’m a sportsman. I’m focused on sport. That’s the beauty of sport. It’s so pure. It’s a bridge that connects people, countries, culture, religions, everything. I just hope this is the beginning of a great future ahead of us – in anything, in other sports, not just tennis.”
Ram said he had been dismayed by the news that Israel’s Davis Cup tie against Sweden in Malmo next week would be played behind closed doors for security reasons. “If they do this now it will open the door for any other place to do the same,” he said.
So that’s over, now. Glad Andy Ram was such a sport about it all and I hope he got himself a big fat appearance check.
Photos: Getty Images