fellow competitors

Ana Ivanovic Snubbed By Rogers Cup – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

The Plot Thickens – Once again, mystery surrounds American tennis star Serena Williams. No doubt she’s injured, and no doubt she is questionable for the final major of the year. But it’s fair to say that there are a number of question marks surrounding how Williams acquired the injury and just how much of a threat is it to her chances of competing at the US Open. First we heard she hurt her foot and would miss the World Team Tennis season. Then we hear she needed stitches and has pulled out of all of her scheduled hard court tune up events. Now we know the World No. 1 has undergone surgery and may not make it to the Big Apple. Throw into the mix the type of injury (deep cuts on the bottom of her foot from stepping on broken glass in a restaurant), and Serena Williams has left many in the general sports world scratching their heads. The good news for Williams is that if she is able to play the US Open, she’ll still be considered one of the heavy favorites. She’s never needed many matches going into a major to post big results, so while not ideal, her lack of preparation will not be nearly as detrimental as it would be to her fellow competitors. And perhaps just maybe this latest injury will work up a little sympathy for the 13-time Grand Slam champion so that others prove less apt to revisit her infamous meltdown in the semifinals against Clijsters last year.

Serbian Snub – One of the more surprising stories of the week was the wildcard snub of Ana Ivanovic for the upcoming Montreal event. Tournament organizers defended the snub, stating that they wanted to ensure Quebec native Stephanie Dubois, whom they felt was an equal, if not bigger draw than Ivanovic for the Canadian crowd, received a wildcard into the event. As Ivanovic never quite reached the popular status of a Maria Sharapova or Williams sisters, it’s difficult to argue with the logic of the tournament organizers who presumably know what their fans want. Playing the qualies could also work in Ivanovic’s favor. Players have talked about the added hunger and mental boost that comes with earning a place in the main draw, not to mention the added advantage of having a few matches under the belt when coming up against an opponent when main draw play is underway. So while already having a ranking that would automatically see her entered in the main draw would have been preferred, qualifying for and playing the Montreal event has the potential to pay dividends later.

Recognition for Martina – The International Tennis Hall of Fame has announced that the 2010 recipient of the Eugene L. Scott Award will be none other than Martina Navratilova. The award is being given in recognition of Navratilova’s contributions to the sport of tennis, which includes her commitment to insightfully and thoughtfully commenting about the nature and state of the sport. It is appropriate that Navratilova receive this award at this stage in the game, given that she has continued to contribute to the sport of tennis in the face of her own battle with breast cancer.

Two for Two – Rising Hungarian star Agnes Szavay completed two spectacular weeks this past weekend, taking her second title in as many weeks in the Czech capital of Prague. She won the Budapest title the previous week in her native Hungary. Granted, the fields at both of these events were not exactly stacked the way that they are at the top tier tournaments, but Szavay may finally be starting to gain some consistency and deliver on the some of the promise she showed earlier in her career. Her Prague win saw her jump 11 places in the rankings, and she’ll be keen to maintain the momentum and raise that ranking even more over the course of the hard court summer season.

Mixed Bag – In a recent poll of America’s favorite female sports stars, tennis took the cake, with current stars Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova making the list, as well as Anna Kournikova and tennis legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova also earning spots among that elite ten. It was great to see such a wide spread among the tennis stars that appeared on the list, and particularly for someone like Billie Jean King who played a huge role in laying the groundwork for women’s tour, to see women’s tennis so well represented had to be immensely satisfying. On the flip side of all of this, no male tennis player earned a spot among the top ten male sports stars. One could argue they face stiffer competition with the popularity of the NFL, NBA etc., but it was still mildly surprising to not see the likes of Federer or Nadal on the list. Not that either of the European men will be broken up about losing a popularity contest in the United States, but it would still be great to see the men fare a little better in 2011.

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.