Last year, many people were upset when the United Arab Emirates denied Israeli Shahar Peer a visa to play in the WTA’s Premier Level tournament in Dubai. The government cited safety reasons, with politics obviously at the core of its decision. This year, it was an upset of a different kind when Shahar Peer took the court at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships as the first Israeli woman to compete in the U.A.E. Making it there was hard enough – Peer needed armed guards, rooftop lookouts and mid-day scheduling on an outside court (via AFP) – then she needed to fight just to stick around. But Peer was determined to make the most of her time in Dubai, coming back from one set down to beat 13th seeded Yanina Wickmayer 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Peer was jubilant after the match, admitting to the press that it wasn’t just scoring the upset that made her so proud:
“It’s more than beating Yanina, it was more of me handling all the stuff around and able to put everything on the side and just play tennis, and do what I like to do, and just concentrate on the (match) and not the politics.
“I really wanted to win this match, not only because of tennis, but because, make a statement that politics and sport should not be involved, you know. There is no place for that for me, so if I can make it better, you know……. I really wanted to win this match and obviously it was not a normal match, but I am happy I won it.”
(quotes via AFP)
Peer added that she feels comfortable at the tournament and is not worried about her safety.
“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.”
“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.”
(quotes via Tennis Channel)
Shahar is likely enjoying herself more in Dubai than she did at this year’s Australian Open warm up tournament in Auckland, where protesters used megaphones to disrupt her matches. Here’s one of those unanswerable sports questions – how great a player would Shahar be if she wasn’t dealing with the added emotional burden and stress of being tennis’s top political target? Or has this made her more of a fighter and a stronger player than she would be, otherwise?