DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Shahar Peer rallied to beat 15th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 in her opening match at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Monday, a year after the Israeli player had been denied a visa to the Emirates.
Authorities had cited safety reasons for preventing Peer from playing last year, with tournament organizers saying they feared fan anger over Israel's three-week military offensive in Gaza. Organizers were fined $300,000 by the WTA after denying her the opportunity to play.
Peer made a faltering start on Monday, being dominated by the Belgian's power game from the baseline and twisting her ankle, before recovering in front of a small and courteous crowd at court No. 1 of the Aviation Club.
"There are a lot of emotions coming after this win," Peer said. "It's more than beating Yanina, it's more of me handling all the stuff around and able to put everything on the side and just play tennis, and just concentrate on the (match) and not the politics.
"It was a lot of emotions for me and a really tough first round and I am so happy I was able to win this."
Police security was tight during the match, with several plainclothes policemen mingling with the crowd. The tournament's head of security was personally present in the stands during the match.
Spectators had to pass through metal detectors and physical screening before making it to the court.
However, there were no untoward incidents during the match and although Wickmayer had better support, Peer received polite applause whenever she won points.
"I think the treatment I get from the people here is amazing, including the security. They are really kind, they are doing everything for me. Of course, there are a few restrictions," Peer said.
"But I am really enjoying my time here, and they take care nicely of me. It is fun for me, and whatever they do, they do it for my safety."
As for the early stages of the match, Peer admitted: "I started pretty bad. I was very frozen and I didn't move. I twisted my ankle on the second point and I was like 'Oh my god, I don't need this. Finally, I'm here, and on the second point I might go home'.
"I really wanted to win this match, not only because of tennis, but because I want to make a statement that politics and sport should not be involved."
Peer, who will next fact Virginie Razzano, also won her first-round doubles match later in the day. Partnering with Gelina Voskoboeva, she was involved in another tight match as they beat Anabel Medina Garrigues and Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 4-6, 10-5.
The biggest upset of the day was Italian Tathiana Garbin's three-set victory over No. 9 seed Samantha Stosur of Australia.
Also making a quick exit was 15th-seeded Nadia Petrova. The Russian lost 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) to Swiss wildcard Stefanie Voegele.