Mondays With Bob Greene: We do not wish to politicize sports

STARS

Venus Williams beat Virginie Razzano 6-4 6-2 to win the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emigrates

Andy Roddick captured the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, Tennessee, USA with a 7-5 7-5 victory over Radek Stepanek.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Open 13 by beating Michael Llodra 7-5 7-6 (3) in Marseille, France

Victoria Azarenka beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-1 6-3 to win the Regions Morgan Championships women’s title in Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Tommy Robredo stopped Juan Monaco 7-5 2-6 7-6 (5) to capture the Copa Telmex in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Gisela Dulko 6-3 6-2 to win the Copa Colsanitas in Bogota, Colombia

SAYING

“I felt like I had to talk about her (Shahar Peer). I thought it was brave of her to come here and try and play despite knowing that it is not going to be easy for her. My dad grew up in an area where if you spoke too much, it was your life. So I felt I had a small opportunity to say something where everyone will listen.” – Venus Williams, who after winning the title in Dubai spoke of Peer during the trophy presentation.

“I am not here to rock any boat or upset people. I am just here to do things that are right. And I think right things are already happening next week and right things will happen next year.” – Venus Williams.

“We do not wish to politicize sports, but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the region and not alienate or put at risk the players and the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have here in the UAE.” – Salah Tahlak, Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships tournament director, in a statement.

“I made it clear to them (the Dubai organizers) that if Shahar were not allowed to play, they would run the risk of losing their tournament. It would be a big blow to lose one of this prestige and money, but if it comes to principles of fairness and openness, there can be no compromise.” – Larry Scott, Sony Ericsson WTA Tour CEO.

“The ITF believes that sport should not be used as a political tool but rather as a unifying element between athletes and nations. Our flagship competitions, Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, were founded on the idea of fostering greater understanding among nations through tennis, a principle that is as valid today as it was over 100 years ago.” – Francesco Ricci Bitti, ITF president.

“I personally look forward to competing in Dubai next year. It is still very unfortunate that due to the decision of the Dubai tournament and the UAE, I could not participate this year. This has hurt me significantly both personally and professionally.” – Shahar Peer.

“This has been a very difficult period for me, and I want to thank the many thousands of fans and organizations all over the world that made this breakthrough possible, including the WTA Tour and my fellow players.” Shahar Peer.

“In the 21st century there is no reason a person should be restricted from doing his or her job because of their nationality, creed, race, gender or sexual orientation.” – Billie Jean King.

“I think due to the press and the WTA talking about it and talking with the tournament, and the pressure they felt after Shahar Peer not getting a visa – it opened up an opportunity for this other player to get a visa. I think because we didn’t just sit down and say: ‘Oh, it’s OK’, we kinda stuck to it, and it opened the doors for someone else, which is great. I don’t think that would have happened if we had just let it be.” – Serena Williams, after Israeli Andy Ram received a visa to play in the men’s tournament in Dubai.

“No player who qualifies to play an ATP World Tour event should be denied their right to compete on the basis of ethnicity, nationality or religion and we are happy that the Dubai Tennis Championships and the UAE have shown that they share that view.” – Adam Helfant, ATP president, in a statement after Ram received a visa.

“It’s amazing, I played unbelievably. Novak did a very good job today, so it was tough to beat him. For me, it was my best match since the start of the year and I’m really happy about that.” – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after beating Novak Djokovic in the semifinals at Marseille, France.

“I had my opportunities to close out the match in the second set. But the truth is Monaco played a good match and deserved to win.” – David Nalbandian, after losing his Buenos Aires Open semifinal to Juan Monaco 2-6 7-5 7-6 (2).

“She played I think one of her best matches and I was not there. I didn’t give myself the chance to play. It was one of those days today and I’ll just have to forget it and get ready for Indian Wells.” – Dinara Safina, after losing a first-round match to Virginie Razzano 6-4 6-2

“It’s been a difficult tournament with changing conditions all the time. It’s the first time I’ve finished with my shoes full of water.” – Tommy Robredo, after winning in Buenos Aires on a court soaked by a heavy overnight downpour.

“I have no regrets. None. I was proud to retire as the world’s No 1 player. I came to the realization that there was a great life out there outside of playing top-flight tennis. It became clear in my head that I would be happier in another way.” – Justine Henin, in an interview with The Sunday Times of London.

“I could have played a match here, but not two.” – Richard Gasquet, after withdrawing from the Open 13 tournament in Marseille, France, because of a right shoulder injury.

SHAMEFUL ACTION

Tournament organizers, citing fan anger at Israel’s recent incursion into the Gaza Strip, said security fears were behind the decision to not give Shahar Peer a visa. The United Arab Emirates, which is trying to become a showcase for world-class sports, found itself immediately at the center of a firestorm of criticism from around the world. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and ATP, which have rules stating any player should be able to compete where they wish provided they have the required ranking, led the protests. An American cable company, Tennis Channel, canceled its coverage of the tournament. And The Wall Street Journal’s European edition withdrew its sponsorship of the event. Peer thanked her fellow players for their support, but insisted it was only fair on the other competitors that the tournament continued. “They were in or on their way to Dubai, and denying them the right to play in this year’s tournament at the last moment would not make the wrong right. Venus Williams won the singles, then singled out Peer in her post-tournament remarks.

SLAMMED

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour fined the organizers of the Dubai Tennis Championships a record USD $300,000 after Shahar Peer of Israel was denied a visa to play a tournament in the United Arab Emirates. Under a barrage of negative comments, Israeli Andy Ram was granted a visa to play in this week’s men’s tournament in Dubai. “Thanks to the courage of Shahar, and all those individuals and organizations – including her fellow players – that supported her, the UAE has changed their policy and another barrier of discrimination has fallen,” WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott said. Besides the fine, the WTA Tour announced will receive USD $44,250 and 130 ranking points, the amount equal to the points that she earned during the same week in 2008 but was unable to defend. Peer also will be guaranteed a wild card entry into the Dubai tournament next year if she does not otherwise qualify. Anna Lena Groenefeld, who was to be Peer’s doubles partner in Dubai, will receive USD $7,950, an amount equal to the average prize money that she earned per tournament in doubles in 2008. “These actions are also intended to send a clear message that our Tour will not tolerate discrimination of any kind and that we will never allow this situation to happen again, in UAE or elsewhere,” Scott said.

SEEKING WIN

Andy Ram has an added reason to win the doubles title at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships this week. United Arab Emirates authorities granted Ram a visa following sharp world-wide protests when his fellow Israeli, Shahar Peer, was denied entry into the country and prevented from playing in the women’s tournament. Organizers of the men’s event said Ram will have all the security he needs while in Dubai. Ram and partner Julian Knowle are coming off a second-place finish at the Open 13 tournament in Marseille, France, when they lost the title match to Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra 6-3 3-6 10-8 (match tiebreak). The head of the Emirates consular affairs department said a “special permit” had been granted for Ram, but did not give a specific reason why Ram was allowed to participate and not Peer.

STAYING AWAY

Five of the top ten players in the world will be skipping the Dubai men’s championships this week. Rafael Nadal is suffering from a knee injury and hopes to be ready for Spain’s Davis Cup tie against Serbia. “The doctor has advised me to stay home and rest after the pain on my knee in Rotterdam last week,” Nadal said. Roger Federer has a bad back and will also miss Switzerland’s Davis Cup tie against the United States. Also skipping this week’s tournament, one of the richest on the ATP tour calendar with prize money of more than USD $2 million, are Nikolay Davydenko, Fernando Verdasco and Andy Roddick. “They have all seemed to have legitimate injuries,” said Colm McLoughlin, managing director of Dubai Duty Free. He apparently hadn’t talked with Roddick, who said the Peer affair was the reason he won’t defend his title in Dubai. “I really didn’t’ agree with what went on over there,” Roddick said. “I don’t know if it’s the best thing to mix politics and sports, and that was probably a big part of it.”

SILENCE, PLEASE

There won’t be much noise when Sweden and Israel play their first-round Davis Cup match in Malmo, Sweden. Because of anti-Israeli demonstrations planned during the three-day competition, Malmo officials said the matches will be played in an empty arena. Only officials, some sponsors and journalists will be allowed to view the competition because the city’s recreational committee said it could not guarantee security for the fans. There is a history in Sweden for quiet Davis Cup ties. In 1975, following a military coup in Chile, no spectators were allowed in Bastad’s arena to watch Sweden play Chile.

SKIPPING TIE

Roger Federer will miss Switzerland’s Davis Cup tie against the United States because of a back injury. He also is skipping this week’s tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emigrates. Federer said he has not had enough time to completely strengthen his back after hurting it last fall and is taking the break as a precautionary measure. Switzerland takes on the United States in the first-round tie on March 6-8 in Birmingham, Alabama.

STAYING HOME

Nikolay Davydenko will not participate in Russia’s first-round Davis Cup tie against Romania. Russian team captain Shamil Tarpishchev said Davydenko is not yet fully recovered from a foot injury that sidelined the world’s number five player for two months. Tarpishchev has named Marat Safin, Dmitry Tursunov, Teimuraz Gabashvili and Mikhail Youzhny for the March 6-8 tie that will be played in Sibiu, Romania.

SUING

In a lawsuit, Zina Garrison has accused the United States Tennis Association of discrimination. The former US Fed Cup captain said she was treated unfairly because she was paid a lower salary than Davis Cup coach Patrick McEnroe, wasn’t given a multiyear deal equivalent to McEnroe’s and was subjected to higher performance standards than he was. In the suit, Garrison claims her replacement as Fed Cup captain, Mary Joe Fernandez, was given a given a higher salary despite little coaching experience at the national level. The first black captain of the US Fed Cup team, Garrison replaced Billie Jean King in 2004 and her teams had a 5-5 record in five season, losing in the semifinals four times and the quarterfinals once. “During Ms. Garrison’s five-year tenure as captain, the United States Fed Cup team did not advance to the Fed Cup final, its longest drought in the competition’s 45-year history,” said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier, who denied discrimination was involved in the change.

SUCCESS

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez finally has a singles title to go along with her doubles success. The Spaniard captured her first career WTA Tour singles crown when she defeated Gisela Dulko 6-2 6-3 at the Copa Sony Ericsson Colsanitas in Bogota, Colombia. “The final was more difficult than the score suggests, but on the important points I think I played better,” Martinez Sanchez said. “I really believe that doubles helps my singles.” The 26-year-old has won six doubles titles.

SABATINI HONORED

The International Tennis Hall of Fame paid a special tribute to former US Open winner Gabriela Sabatini during the Copa Telmex Tournament in her hometown, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Sabatini, who became the first woman from Argentina to win a Grand Slam tournament title in 1990 at the US Open, was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006. The ceremony was conducted by Mark Stenning, CEO of the Hall of Fame, and 2005 Hall of Famer Butch Buchholz.

SENIOR LEADER

Now that’s he’s recovered from hip surgery, Lleyton Hewitt will lead Australia’s Davis Cup team in their Asia/Oceania first-round tie in Thailand next month. Because of the surgery, Hewitt missed Australia’s last Davis Cup competition against Chile. Joining Hewitt on the squad will be Chris Guccione, Carsten Ball and teenager Brydan Klein. Tennis Australia also announced that Wally Masur will replace Darren Cahill as coach of the squad, joining Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald.

SAYS NO THANKS

Plans for a Davis Cup comeback by Greg Rusedski have been dashed by British captain John Lloyd and the team’s top player, Andy Murray. The 35-year-old Rusedski said his performance in senior event had convinced him that he still could be competitive. And with Murray on Britain’s team, Rusedski felt he could help the squad, and even was willing to participate in a playoff to decide who will play number two to Murray when Great Britain takes on Ukraine. Instead, Lloyd has decided to go with youngsters.

SHOWING LIVE

The United States Davis Cup tie against Switzerland will be televised live on Tennis Channel. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) and International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced Tennis Channel will broadcast live the US Davis Cup competition for the next two years. Tennis Channel has the US television rights for Davis Cup ties involving countries other than the United States, as well as all Fed Cup matches. For the past two years, Tennis Channel has shown US Davis Cup matches only on tape delay.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Marseille: Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra beat Andy Ram and Julian Knowle 6-3 3-6 10-8 (match tiebreak)

Dubai: Cara Black and Liezel Huber beat Maria Kirilenko and Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3 6-3

Memphis (men): Mardy Fish and Mark Knowles beat Travis Parrott and Filip Polasek 7-6 (7) 6-1

Memphis (women): Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki beat Yuliana Fedak and Michaella Krajicek 6-1 7-6 (2)

Bogota: Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta 7-5 3-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Buenos Aires: Marcel Granollers and Alberto Martin beat Nicolas Almagro and Santiago Ventura 6-3 5-7 10-8 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Dubai: www.dubaitennischampionships.com

Acapulco: www.abiertomexicanodetenis.com

Delray Beach: www.yellowtennisball.com

Bergamo:  www.olmesport.it

Monterrey: www.abiertodetenismonterrey.com

Davis Cup: www.DavisCup.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$2,233,000 Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, Dubai, UAE, hard

$1,226,500 Abierto Mexicano Telcel, Acapulco, Mexico, clay

$500,000 Delray Beach International Tennis Championships, Delray Beach, Florida, USA, hard

WTA TOUR

$220,000 Abierto Mexicano Telcel, Acapulco, Mexico, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$135,000 Internazionali di Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy, hard

WTA TOUR

$220,000 Monterrey Open, Monterrey, Mexico, hard

DAVIS CUP

World Group

(First Round)

Argentina vs. Netherlands at Buenos Aires, Argentina, clay

Czech Republic vs. France at Ostrava, Czech Republic, carpet

United States vs. Switzerland at Birmingham, Alabama, USA, hard

Croatia vs. Chile at Porec, Croatia, hard

Sweden vs. Israel at Malmo, Sweden, carpet

Romania vs. Russia at Sibiu, Romania, carpet

Germany vs. Austria at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, hard

Spain vs. Serbia at Benidorm, Spain, clay

Americas Zone Group I (First Round)

Uruguay at Colombia, Ecuador at Canada

Americas Zone Group II (First Round)

Jamaica at Mexico, Netherlands Antilles at Venezuela, Guatemala at Dominican Republic, Bahamas at Paraguay

Asia/Oceania Zone Group I (Second Round)

Australia at Thailand, India at Chinese Taipei, China at Japan, Korea at Uzbekistan

Asia/Oceania Zone Group II (First Round)

Philippines at Hong Kong, Pakistan at Oman, Kuwait at Indonesia, Malaysia at New Zealand

Europe/Africa Zone Group I (First Round)

Macedonia at South Africa

Europe/Africa Zone Group I (Second Round)

Slovak Republic at Italy, Ukraine at Great Britain, Poland at Belgium

Europe/Africa Zone Group II (First Round)

Georgia at Lithuania, Egypt at Slovenia, Latvia at Moldova, Bulgaria at Hungary, Finland at Denmark, Montenegro at Monaco, Ireland at Algeria, Portugal at Cyprus