DOHA, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Shahar Peer became the first Israeli to play a tour event in the Gulf region when she beat Slovenia’s Andreja Klepac 6-3 6-4 in the first round of the Qatar Open on Monday.
Peer had been prevented by the Israeli government from playing in the region while she was performing national service. That service, administrative duties between tournaments, has ended and she is free to compete where she wants.
“When I came here I was a little bit excited because I didn’t know what to expect, like every new tournament, every new place you go,” said Peer. “But I really got a warm welcome from the tournament so I’m really happy being here.
“When you go on the court you don’t think about politics. You just want to play your tennis. I’m really happy to be playing here and hope to keep it going as long as I can.”
The impact of the occasion barely made a ripple. Played as the first match of the week and away from centre court, the only sound that greeted Peer on to court was birdsong.
The spectators in the stands when the match began were almost outnumbered by the number of officials on court and the subdued atmosphere matched that of any opening round contest.
The quality of the match did little to enliven the occasion.
The first three games consisting of long baseline rallies took 20 minutes, and after Peer held the first game there were seven consecutive breaks of serve before Peer held again for the set.
In the second set, after an early break each, 12th seed Peer broke for 5-4 when Klepac netted a forehand and she then served out the match to love.
Peer said she was pleased at the way she had been welcomed at the tournament despite the heightened tensions between Israel and its neighbouring Muslim countries.
“I was talking with the security in Israel about if I could come and right away the answer was positive,” said Peer, who had visited a souk and dined in a Moroccan restaurant while in Doha.
“It wasn’t a problem and everything is good here with the relationship, and I think by me being here everybody can understand that we are also human and everybody’s the same in the world. It doesn’t matter if you are Jewish or Muslim or Christian.
“I find the people are really nice here, and everything is normal. It’s even nicer than some other tournaments. I’m not coming here to help the politics of course, but if by me playing in this tournament it can help anything in the world, for peace or anything, I’ll be really happy.”
Peer is not playing at next week’s tournament in Dubai because of a long-standing commitment to an event in Memphis. (Editing by Sonia Oxley)