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ISRAEL: Tales of the (real) Israeli tennis player in Dubai

February 23, 2010 |  6:20 am
Shaharpeer

A whole floor of a deluxe hotel. Room service. Private dressing room. Bodyguards. This might have been Madonna on tour, but it was Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer in Dubai.

While the Dubai police were showing the world the suspected assassins of Mahmoud Mabhouh walking in and out of elevators at the Al Bustan Rotana hotel sporting visors and tennis rackets, another tennis player -- a real one -- was staying in a different hotel in town. 

Last year, Peer stayed home after the UAE refused to grant her a visa on security grounds. The Dubai organizers of the championship were fined $300,000 by the Women's Tennis Assn. This year, the Israeli player, currently ranked 22nd in the world, made it in, but the timing was mighty awkward.

Being Israeli in Dubai is tense on a good day. But on days when the world is pointing fingers at Israel for the assassination, it's downright intense.

Now back in Israel, Dovik Peer, Shahar's father, told Army Radio a bit about what it was like. The organizers' efforts to ensure that Shahar participate and make it home in one piece entailed extremely high security. They took up the whole floor of a hotel, a different one from where the rest of the players were staying. An extensive security detail kept a watchful eye on them in a way "I think is very similar to the prime minister's security in Israel," he said: First, second and third circles of security meticulously scoured the vicinity before allowing them out of the room.

The closest routes between hotel and car, car and private dressing room, dressing room and court were chosen, to minimize Peer's exposure. Most meals were ordered in, the few taken outside were done with bodyguards. Needless to say, they didn't see much of Dubai. Work with us here, the guards told them. Things are tense.

Asked whether he was scared, Dovik said, "Not for a second." Peer herself told the press upon her return that everyone in Dubai took good care of her and tried to make her feel as comfortable as possible. It was a difficult week but an important one, she said, at the end of which she felt she had friends in Dubai.

Spending the absolute minimum time outdoors and otherwise sequestered in her hotel room, Shahar busied herself catching up with friends. But for that, she needed an Internet connection. To get one, she had to put in her room number and family name. Understandably, they were registered under a different name.  Shahar called the desk and asked how to connect. This is how you do it, Ms. Feliciano, they explained. She hesitated: "Uh, how do I spell my name?"

Her father says he was on the floor laughing, imagining raised eyebrows at reception. 

Another light moment he described involved the dogs that were taken to sniff out the court before every game she played. Once, she was warming up on the court when they came. No problem, she said, the dogs can do their thing while I warm up. Sorry, miss, said the security guys. You have to take a break now. We don't want the dogs chasing tennis balls.

Peer made it to the semifinals, where she lost to Venus Williams.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.

Photo: Shahar Peer at the 2008 Israeli tennis championship finals. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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