DUBAI, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Shahar Peer, who is being kept away from her rivals at the Dubai Championships in a heavily-guarded compound for the second year in a row, said she was feeling under even more pressure to succeed this time round.
Two years ago the tournament received a record $300,000 fine from the WTA and was threatened with removal from the tour after the Israeli was refused a visa to compete.
Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates which, like most Arab countries, has no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state and Israelis are routinely denied entry.
Peer was granted entry in 2010 and reached the semi-finals before losing to Venus Williams. The security conditions she encountered last year exist again this week but she said that was not the reason she felt extra pressure to perform.
“It’s because I want to do well,” the ninth seed told a group of reporters allowed into her compound after a 6-4 6-1 first-round win over Spain’s Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez on Tuesday.
“I played good here last year so always when you go back to a tournament where you played good, you want to repeat it.”
Peer has some familiar faces taking care of her again this year in the compound inside the tournament grounds, providing VIP treatment with her own private locker room, lounge and food.
”It’s the same people around me ... really nice people ... taking good care of me,“ she said. ”It kind of feels like home so you can get the same inspiration because you feel very comfortable.
“I feel great here and will try to be here as long as possible.”
Peer said the isolation helped her focus more on her tennis commitments.
“You’re very concentrated. Last year I learned a lot for my future career, to try and not hang around at the tennis, to be there as less as possible and to really finish, do my matches, win, and go back,” she explained.
“I have my dad here with me. We watch some movies and are really trying to have some fun together.”
While many believe that politics and sport should not be mixed, Peer takes the opposite view.
”They should be connected, I think,“ said the Israeli. ”They respect me coming here and really appreciate me coming.
“I think we’re all trying to make one thing together, to be human beings and to respect each other.”
In other matches, eleventh-seeded Italian Flavia Pennetta beat Australia’s Jelena Dokic 6-2 6-2 and 12th-seeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi overwhelmed Russian Vera Dushevina 6-1 6-2.
Two players who claimed titles on Sunday, 13th-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova and unseeded Slovak Daniela Hantuchova, went out.
Paris Open champion Kvitova lost 7-6 7-6 to Japanese qualifier Ayumi Morita and Hantuchova, who travelled from Thailand after winning the Pattaya Open, fell 6-1 6-3 to Russian Anna Chakvetadze.
Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder ousted 14th-seeded Serb Ana Ivanovic 4-6 7-6 6-2.
Editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story email email@example.com