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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tennis: Peer to play, Venus will defend title in Dubai

Associated Press Writer

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Shahar Peer of Israel will play in the Dubai Tennis Championships, a year after she was denied an entry visa for the tournament.

She'll join a field Sunday that includes defending champion Venus Williams.

"There is no question that what happened last year was unfortunate on many fronts," tournament director Salah Tahlak told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "Our focus today, however, is on looking forward, on continuing to building on our outstanding event."

The United Arab Emirates assured the WTA in writing last month that it would allow Peer to play. Last year, she had been denied a visa apparently because of anti-Israel sentiments in the Gulf state following a three-week war between Israel and Islamic militants in Gaza.

The UAE does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Peer snub sparked widespread protests and prompted Andy Roddick, the 2008 champion in Dubai, to skip the men's event in protest. It also exposed the clash between the Emirates' hunger for big-time sports events and its stance on Middle East political tensions.

The WTA subsequently fined tournament organizers $300,000.

Dov Peer, her father and manager, said he supported his daughter's decision to play.

"She's a professional tennis player and she will go," Dov Peer told The AP in a phone interview.

He said no special protection for his daughter was requested from Dubai organizers and "nobody (in Israel) told us not to go."

Organizers said the safety and security of all players was a priority, and Israeli tennis officials said they were confident athletes would be safe in the Gulf state.

"I am sure that the authorities in Dubai know how to take care of our players," said Michael Klein, chairman of the Israeli Tennis Association. "We don't think we need to get involved. We only know about tennis, not about security."

The women's and the men's event, which follows a week later, features 16 of the top 20 players. Top-ranked Serena Williams will miss the tournament because of a leg injury, and No. 2 Dinara Safina withdrew last week because of a back injury.

Caroline Wozniacki, the U.S. Open finalist last year, is the top seed. She's followed by the reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. Venus Williams is the third seed.

After she won the tournament last year, Venus Williams said her decision to return to defend her title would rest on whether Peer was allowed to play in 2010.

The 22nd-ranked Peer will play No. 15 Yanina Wickmayer of Belarus in the opening round.


Associated Press Writer Shira Rubin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.