Dubai Tennis Championships

POLITICS AND PEER PRESSURE IN DUBAI

By Melina Harris

A year on after the political tumult in 2009 caused by the refusal to admit Israeli Shahar Peer, even with the correct visa to enter the United Arab Emirates to compete in the Barclay’s Dubai Tennis Championships and the subsequent debate over whether to also exclude the men’s doubles player Andy Ram, both tournament and player overcame the political ‘Peer’ pressure to succeed in a continuing hostile political climate.

This year’s tournament played just a couple of hundred yards from the hotel where the senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month was still able to amass crowds of tennis fans to watch the WTA event and World number 22 Peer, showed extreme strength of character to reach the semi finals under the constant threat of violence on and off court, for she played her four singles and two doubles matches on an outside court at the insistence of the Dubai State Police for security reasons while all spectators were forced to pass through airport-like metal detectors before entering.

Peer insisted that ‘I’m not here to play politics’, but surely the mental effects from last year’s events must have fuelled her desire to perform well at this year’s tournament. She has won a huge amount of respect from her fellow competitors for her grit and determination earning $88,000 in beating the in-form Wozniaki convincingly en route to her semi final loss against Venus Williams, ironically the player who during her acceptance speech at last year’s final spoke passionately in defense of the Israeli, earning her an award from the Jewish community in New York.

Last year, tournament organizers defended their decision to exclude Peer from the tournament as they maintained Peer’s presence ‘would have antagonized our fans who have watched live television coverage of recent attacks in Gaza’ believing that ‘the entire tournament could have been boycotted by protesters’. This argument provoked a strong reaction, not only from Williams, Andy Roddick also famously refused to play the men’s event on moral grounds.

The lucrative tournament was nearly cancelled by the former chief executive of the WTA Tour, Larry Scott, who forcibly refused to concede that the effects of a three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza, which caused the death of 1,300 Palestinians allowed the organizers enough evidence to ban an Israeli from competing, which led to the tournament being fined a record $300,000, raising the issue of sport and politics to the foreground of much media debate.

Despite the media frenzy surrounding Peer’s reintroduction, Stacy Allaster, Scott’s successor insisted that ‘what happened last year is over and the chapter is most definitely closed’ and went on to say:

‘We will always stand by our insistence no host country can deny a player the right to compete at any event on the tour for which she has qualified by ranking. We took our stance by imposing the largest fine imposed in our history and requiring the tournament to put up a letter of credit for the prize money. We also insisted that any Israeli player would receive a visa well in advance of this year’s event. The tournament met all of those obligations and we are 100% happy with the way things have been.’

For Peer, who also suffered cruel jibes at the Australian Open, where anti-Israeli protestors held up placards of her in uniform with a Palestinian baby on her racket, the mental scars have clearly not healed. She revealed in an interview, ‘it hurt mentally and professionally, because I was playing very well. I was on a good run and I was ready for the tournament. It was a big tournament and I couldn’t go, so it really stopped my momentum. To be barred from a country is not a nice feeling. I think there’s no place for that in sport. I actually think that sport can make it better and help political situations, not make it worse.’

She also recently reflected before competing in this year’s event ‘it was a difficult time but sport should be outside of politics, so obviously I want to come and play here. We all need to be equal. I really wanted to win here, not only because of tennis, but because I want to make a statement that politics and sport should not be mixed.’

Can sport ever be truly separate from the political world climate? Can it, like Peer suggested, be a harmonizing force, making political situations better, rather than worse?

There have been numerous incidents across the sporting world where politics and sport have collided causing catastrophic effects, the most notorious being when terrorists attacked a bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team in the Pakistani city of Lahore in 2009. It is a terrible shame that sport’s stars should sometimes live in fear of their lives while playing the sport they love, but unfortunately it is a reality that sport and politics will always be inextricably linked.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter. She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

Mondays With Bob Greene: I thought I took all the right decisions today

STARS

Roger Federer beat Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-4 to win the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open men’s singles in Madrid, Spain

Dinara Safina beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-2 6-4 in Madrid, Spain, to win the women’s singles at the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open.

Marc Gicquel beat Mathieu Montcourt 3-6 6-1 6-4 to win the BNP Paribas Primrose Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France

SAYING

“I thought I took all the right decisions today. In the end it was a perfect game for me. (You) stay positive and I did. I got the win I needed badly.” – Roger Federer, after beating Rafael Nadal.

“There are no positives, there is little to analyze. He broke and broke and I went home.” – Rafael Nadal, after losing to Roger Federer.

“I’m very disappointed I can play this well and still not win a match.” – Novak Djokovic, after losing to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.

“Since I became No. 1 I’m playing better and better.” – Dinara Safina, after winning the Madrid Open women’s title.

“I don’t want anybody telling me all the time what to do. I want to do my own thing. I’m more relaxed, easy going. I’m not worried too much. If it goes my way, fine. If not, I’ll keep trying.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, who hired Larisa Savchenko as her new coach.

“After a few weeks of training I got the hunger back. I felt really good and wanted the challenge to see if I can still be up there (competing on the tour).” – Kim Clijsters, a former top-ranked player who will return to the WTA Tour in August.

“It’s going to be a challenge but she seems really determined. She has the talent and the tennis. I really think she can do it.” – Steffi Graf, on Kim Clijsters rejoining the WTA Tour.

“It is truly a page that has been turned. It was 20 years of my life. Now life is something different.” – Justine Henin, saying she will not follow Kim Clijsters in returning to the WTA Tour.

“Sometimes it’s hard to fully accept change in some respects. It’s an exciting change, it’s an asset for fans and for players.” – Andre Agassi, about the roof over Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court.

“That’s saying something when this is already the best and most famous court in the world, but I’m intrigued to see what level the atmosphere might go to. Given the right scenarios with the right match and players, it could be really something.” – Tim Henman, on the new roof covering Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court.

“The small amounts gambled (and) the absence of influence of the bets on the matches in question.” – The Court of Arbitration for Sport, announcing the reason that the suspension of Mathieu Montcourt for betting on matches has been reduced from eight to five weeks.

SUCCESS AT LAST

Roger Federer ended his five-match losing streak to his top rival when he shocked Rafael Nadal in the final of the Madrid Open. That stretch included the finals at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Calling his first win over Nadal since the 2007 Masters Tennis Cup “very satisfying,” Federer now trails in their head-to-head meetings 7-13. It was the 16th time the two have played for a title, with Nadal winning 11 times. Only Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe have met in more finals among the men: 20. And it was only the second time that Federer has beaten Nadal on clay. The Swiss star is the only player ranked in the top 10 to have ever beaten Nadal on the surface.

SETTLING UP

Organizers of the Dubai Tennis Championships have agreed to pay a USD $300,000 fine assessed against the tournament when Israel’s Shahar Peer was not allowed to enter the country. The WTA Tour board rejected Dubai’s appeal of the record fine, which was more than twice as much as the previous highest. The United Arab Emirates refused to grant Peer a visa just before she was due to arrive at the Dubai tournament in February. The WTA Tour also demanded that any Israeli players who qualify for the 2010 tournament must receive visas at least eight weeks before the tournament. “I just say that it’s a shame that Shahar could not compete in the tournament because she has nothing to do with the politics – she’s a tennis player,” said top-ranked Dinara Safina.

STRAIGHT IN

Emilie Loit and five other Frenchwomen have been awarded wild cards for direct entry into the main draw at this year’s Roland Garros. The French Open begins on May 24 in Paris. Claire Feuerstein, Kinnie Laisne, Kristina Mladenovic, Irena Pavlovic and Olivia Sanchez will be joined by American Lauren Embree and Australian Olivia Rogowska in receiving wild cards from the French Tennis Federation. Given wild cards into the women’s qualifying draw were Chloe Babet, Simona Halep, Florence Haring, Violette Huck, Karla Mraz, Laura Thorpe, Aurelie Vedy and Stephanie Vongsouthi.

STYLISH RETURN

Kim Clijsters made a splash when she helped inaugurate the new roof over Wimbledon’s Centre Court. After Clijsters and Tim Henman teamed up to win a mixed doubles challenge against Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi, Clijsters beat Graf 6-4 and earned a standing ovation from the crowd for the quality of tennis. “I had started practicing again, but I was really out of shape and I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” said Clijsters, who has married and had a child since she retired from the sport. “About four weeks into training I felt I would like to compete again on tour. Since then I have been training really hard.”

SEX AND TENNIS

Anna Kournikova wants to get away from her sexy tennis star image – at least somewhat. The Russian, who works for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Cartoon Network, says she is driven to get kids more involved in sports and exercise. Kournikova began her professional tennis career at the age of 14. And while many think of her as the sexy tennis player, she was ranked as high as eighth in the world in singles and won two Grand Slam tournament doubles titles, partnering with Martina Hingis. While she has not played on the WTA Tour since 2003, Kournikova participates in World Team Tennis and occasionally plays exhibitions. And she hasn’t abandoned modeling. “You’ve got to have some kind of income,” Kournikova said.

SPOT FOR GAUDIO

Gaston Gaudio of Argentina will be playing at Roland Garros again. Gaudio, who won the French Open in 2004, was granted a wild card for this year’s tournament. The 30-year-old right-hander last won a tournament at Kitzbuhel, Austria, in 2005. Once ranked fifth in the world, Gaudio has dropped to 395th in the world rankings.

SIDELINED

It was a doubleheader at the Madrid Open when both Philipp Kohlschreiber and Nikolay Davydenko pulled out of the tournament. Both players said they had injured their left leg and had to withdraw. Kohlschreiber was facing Rafael Nadal in his next match, while Davydenko was scheduled to face Andy Roddick. Both Nadal and Roddick moved into the quarterfinals with walkovers.

SEE, ME TOO

Roland Garros is playing follow the leader, with officials saying the French Open will have a new center court with a retractable roof in place by 2013 or 2014. Wimbledon will have a retractable roof on its Centre Court for the first time at this year’s tournament. The retractable roof-covered stadium in Paris was supposed to be ready for the 2012 Olympics, but it was delayed when France failed to get the Games. Jean Gachassin, president of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), said the future of Roland Garros depends on it getting the roof. “The goal is to have an outdoor stadium that can be covered, instead of an indoor stadium that can be uncovered,” said Marc Mimram, the head architect for the project. The Australian Open has two courts with roofs, while organizers of the US Open are considering building a roof over its main court, Arthur Ashe Stadium.

STOP IT

Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf say their names and trademarks are being used on Web sites without their permission. The two, who are married, have filed separate cyber squatting claims in federal court. Agassi claims that the domain names andre-agassi.com, andre-agassi.net and andre-agassi.info have been registered. Graf says steffigraf.com, steffigraf.net and steffigraf.info have been registered without her consent. Both Agassi and Graf are seeking ownership of the domain names.

SUSPENSION SHORTENED

When he finally serves his suspension for betting on matches, Mathieu Montcourt will only miss five weeks on the ATP tour instead of eight weeks. And he will be able to compete at both Wimbledon and the US Open this summer. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) noted the 24-year-old Montcourt bet a total of USD $192 on 36 different tennis events, but none on his own matches or at tournaments where he was playing. Citing “the small amounts gambled (and) the absence of influence of the bets on the matches in question,” the CAS reduced Montcourt ban to five weeks, starting July 6. The Frenchman was a finalist this past week at the BNP Paribas Primrose Bordeaux where he lost to Marc Gicquel 3-6 6-1 6-4 in Bordeaux, France.

STAYING RETIRED

Just because she has picked up a racquet and hit with longtime coach Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin says she has no plans to un-retire like fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters. “I hasten to add, just to improve my condition and stay healthy,” Henin said of the practice. A year after she surprised the world by retiring while ranked number one in the world, Henin says she still feels the pain of competitive tennis every day. “If it is not the knee, it is the shoulder,” she said. The seven-time Grand Slam tournament champion is now a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, earlier this year visiting eastern Congo, and is appearing on Belgian television in a show titled “12 works of Justine Henin.”

SCRAPPING TENNIS PROGRAMS

In cost-cutting moves, two American colleges have dropped their tennis programs. Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, suspended indefinitely its tennis programs affected 12 student-athletes, seven men and five women, as well as coach Malik Tabet and assistant coach Martha Montoya. Athletic director Ron Prettyman said he had to cut USD $350,000 from his budget. The university says it will honor all scholarships for the 2009-2010 school year for tennis players who want to stay at ISU, while those who want to transfer will be able to play at other schools.

At Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond, Louisiana, the men’s tennis team was cut because of the budget. Officials said the move to drop the 10-player squad was because next year’s proposed state budget calls for chopping millions of dollars from public universities. Southeastern plans to retain men’s tennis coach Jason Hayes, who also oversees the women’s team, which for now will be spared.

The University of La Verne in Southern California won’t drop its women’s tennis team after all. Two weeks after announcing it was dropping the sport temporarily, the women’s program has been reinstated. The biggest problem at the La Verne, California, school – located 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles – was the lack of a facility since the school turned the courts into a parking lot in 2007. But the school worked out a deal to use the facilities at The Claremont Club during the spring, making it possible for the school to keep its program. The men’s tennis program, however, remains on hiatus with no definitive timetable for its return.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Madrid (men): Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic beat Simon Aspelin and Wesley Moodie 6-4 6-4

Madrid (women): Cara Black and Liezel Huber beat Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond 4-6 6-3 10-6 (match tiebreak)

Bordeaux: Pablo Cuevas and Horacio Zeballos beat Xavier Pujo and Stephane Robert 4-6 6-4 10-4 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Dusseldorf: www.arag-world-team-cup.com/

Kitzbuhel: www.atpkitz.at

Warsaw: www.warsawopen.com.pl/

Strasbourg: www.internationaux-strasbourg.fr/

Paris: www.rolandgarros.com/index.html

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$490,000 Interwetten Austrian Open, Kitzbuhel, Austria, clay

$1,800,000 ARAG ATP World Team Championships, Dusseldorf, Germany, clay

WTA

$600,000 Warsaw Open, Warsaw, Poland, clay

$220,000 Internationaux de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France, clay

SENIORS

Grand Champions Brazil, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP and WTA

Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (first week)

Captain Novak Djokovic

And the new photos keep coming in. This time we got photos of Novak Djokovic in a flight simulator in Dubai.  Sounds like he had a really good time on the flight simulator.

On Monday Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships top seed and ATP World Tour No. 3 Novak Djokovic had his first experience in a flight simulator courtesy of Emirates.

The A380 flight took Djokovic on his chosen route, from Belgrade to Dubai. He flew with Emirates Captain Milan Kosanovic, a fellow Serbian.

“It’s always fun to do this kind of activities in Dubai, last year I skied indoors at the Mall of Emirates and this year the flight simulator.  I had so much fun, it looked so real,” said Djokovic who plays Flavio Cipolla of Italy in his first round match in Dubai on Tuesday.

Mandatory photo credit: Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships

Random Ramblings…Aussie Open dates, Wimbledon, Vegas, etc.

Imagine that the tennis world was focused not on Indian Wells and Key Biscayne but on the Australian Open at this time of year. Is this a novel concept? Not really. This was the case during this time frame in 1971 when the Australian Open was played at White City in Sydney, Australia. As documented in the upcoming book On This Day In Tennis History, it was on March 15, 1971 when Ken Rosewall and Margaret Court both won Australian Open singles titles during this uniquely scheduled major. Many people would love to have the tennis schedule altered so the players have more of an off season – and a February/March staging of the Australian Open would be a great way for that to happen – but Tennis Australia officials are too wed to the Australia Day holiday season and the end of the Australian summer season to move the tournament dates to later in the year. It could be worse, however, as the Australian Open used to be held during the Christmas holidays.

During a recent visit to London, I stopped by the All England Club and saw the place in full preparation for the 2008 Championships. Cranes stand next to Centre Court as the retractable roof continues to be installed and ready for the 2009 tournament. It appears a small stadium/bleacher section will be constructed on court No. 13 – in place of the rows of bleachers under the awning. At the Wimbledon Museum, I watched the highlights of the 1973 “strike year” men’s final when Czech Jan Kodes beat the Soviet Union’s Alex Metreveli. In lieu of allegations and controversy of betting in tennis and the allegations of involvement of the Russian mob, it was amusing to hear the commentator’s voice on the highlight tape, in previewing the final, say that “the betting is on Kodes.”

It’s a tough situation for The Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas to go head-to-head with Dubai Tennis Championships on the ATP calendar. No doubt that the appearance fees were aplenty in the Middle Eastern oil and finance capital as most of the top 10 played in the event, while The Tennis Channel Open got the leftovers. Why not make Dubai a larger co-ed event (as it is now, the women play the week before in Dubai) and then move The Tennis Channel Open to a different date? The tennis calendar could have three back-to-back-to-back “mega co-ed” events in Dubai, Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. The Tennis Channel Open could then move to later in the year (and warmer weather in Vegas or another location). The United States sure could use another clay court event (how about another event before or after the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships?).

Speaking of The Tennis Channel Open, how can you not love Sam Querrey? The 20-year-old American won his first ATP singles title in Vegas and seemed as laid back and relaxed as any player I have ever seen. He told The Tennis Channel’s Corina Morariu that he planned to prepare for his semifinal against Guillermo Canas by going “indoor skydiving” but he lost in place in line and the wait would have been too long….Fernando Gonzalez, Julien Benneteau and Lleyton Hewitt all had some great racquet smashing episodes at The Tennis Channel Open. TC commentator Jimmy Arias had a funny line during Hewitt’s smash of his Yonex frame; “You have to give Yonex a little credit there…it took two tries to break the racquet.”

Best investment for tennis fans – the $69.95 for a year subscription to the ATP Masters Series TV broadband coverage on ATPTennis.com. Why channel surf for Fox Sports Net during Indian Wells/Key Biscayne or stress whether you are going to get The Tennis Channel Open for most of the other offered events like Monte Carlo, Rome, Hamburg, etc.? The service offers near wall-to-wall coverage of all the top matches and if your computer has a high quality screen, it’s just like TV. Speaking of the Masters Series TV coverage, Jason Goodall, one of their fine commentary team members, spoke of talking to Igor Andreev in Dubai and asking him whether he would rather be No. 1 in the world or win a Grand Slam. Goodall reported that the Russian responded, “Neither…an Olympic Gold Medal.”

Men and Buildings: Dubai has lots of pretty things

tsf-andy-roddick-burj-al-arab.jpg

There are lots of pretty things in Dubai this week. (I’m talking about the Burj Al Arab, silly!)

Browse: See some more photos (including detail shots of the hotel interior) here.

Scoreline: By the way, Andy Roddick is still in the running for the 2008 Dubai title. He took out third seed Novak Djokovic 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the semis.

(photo by Getty Images)