One year ago, Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer was unable to play in the Dubai Championship because she was denied a visa to the United Arab Emirates after government officials wouldn't allow her into the country due to security concerns. The WTA fined tournament organizers $300,000 for the move, a hefty amount which forced their hand this year. When the draw was announced, Peer was in the field. Now she's making the most of it.
The 22nd ranked Peer upset top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 7-5 Wednesday to reach the quarterfinal round of the Dubai Championship. Last month, Wozniacki handily defeated Peer in the third round of the Australian Open. This was Peer's second upset of a ranked player thus far in Dubai. She beat No. 15 Yanina Wickmayer in the first round.
Instead of playing on Center Court, Peer and Wozniacki met on Court 1 at the Aviation Club due to security concerns. The smaller area allows for better sightlines for security and fewer headaches for fans who have to wait in line to pass through metal detectors. Security is tight for Peer's matches, with plainclothes officers dispersed through the crowd and a heavy uniformed presence on court.
The 2009 ban was apparently due to a three-week war between Israel and Islamic militants in Gaza. The UAE and Israel have no diplomatic relations.
Along with the $300,000 fine, the WTA forced tournament organizers to provide written confirmation that Peer would be allowed to play this year. It was received in early January.
Peer has been the target of protesters in a number of countries during her career, including in non-Arab areas like New Zealand. To her credit, the 22-year old handles the situation with as much aplomb as one could expect. She has said:
"I also want peace in the world, but I don't think [tennis tournaments are] the place for this protest.
"It's not my fault and I think my country is fine. I don't want to go into politics, but I don't think these guys know what they are shouting."
We wish we could say that Peer's victory was met with the same type of unexpected ovation that Rocky got after beating Drago, but, alas. However, she told reporters that the fans in Dubai have been exceedingly polite and that she's been treated well while in the country. When she wins points they are met with polite applause.
It's a start.