The largest tennis tournament in Latin America begins Monday, and one of the biggest concerns going in has less to do with the balls on the courts, than with the fear of potential bullets in the air.
The event organizer --the Association Tennis Professionals-- has warned players about security concerns at the Mexican Open begins which begins Monday in Acapulco, Mexico, and has sought reassurance by Mexican officials that steps are being taken to ensure safety.
The Pacific resort has been hit by a wave of drug violence, although little of the violence has taken place in the tourist areas of the city.
In January, the bodies of 14 men with their heads chopped off were found outside an Acapulco shopping center. A 15th body with its head intact was also found nearby.
The ATP, in a statement sent to The Associated Press, said it had received assurances from all levels of the Mexican government.
"Following an independent security assessment and discussions with tournament organizers, we are satisfied that responsible measures are being taken, and that the event has the full support of the authorities of Acapulco, the state of Guerrero, and the Mexican federal government," the statement said.
Players have received e-mails from the ATP about the situation, cautioning them about going out and suggesting they stay near their hotel. It's also been suggested they arrive as late as possible and leave once eliminated.
Tournament organizers have played down the security concerns, pointing out that the International Olympic Committee and President Jacques Rogge held their executive board meeting in the coastal resort in October.
Argentine tennis star, David Nalbandian said Saturday he was thinking about withdrawing since he already has a groin injury and could use the rest before Argentina's Davis Cup match against Romania from March 4-6.
Tournament director Raúl Zurutuza later confirmed Nalbandian's withdrawal.
"It's a great and enjoyable tournament to play," said Nalbandian, who lost to Spaniard Tommy Robredo in the quarterfinals of the Copa Claro in Buenos Aires on Saturday.
"But for right now it's a little more difficult because of the security situation. We (players) are a bit scared about this and we're trying to decide what to do."
Zurutuza said the danger was being exaggerated and complained about communications from the ATP and the WTA, which will also play a Mexico tournament.
"It is being blown out of proportion — what is going on, that we are concerned about the violence," Zurutuza said. "We are. But in the context of tennis being played, I believe a great week awaits us."
Spanish player David Ferrer, winner of the last Acapulco tournament, downplayed the danger.
"I think things are being greatly exaggerated," Ferrer said. "We tennis players have all the guarantees" for personal safety.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.