February 19, 2010

Dubai in Debt

It may have become one of the big celebrity vacation destinations in the past few years, with its grand hotels and man-made tropical islands, but Dubai has made news more recently for its financial troubles. And in the tennis world, it's been even better known for a controversial decision last year to deny Israel's Shahar Peer a visa to compete in the Barclays Championships.

The tournament was forced to pay for its transgression, basically being put on probation by the WTA, and this week Peer, visa in hand, made an emotional -- and quite successful -- debut. Unseeded, she opened by avenging a semifinal loss in Auckland by beating Yanina Wickmayer in a three-set first round. She followed it up with a victory over top-seed Caroline Wozniacki and advanced past surprise Australian Open star Na Li in the quarters.

When Peer ultimately met defending champion -- and, to her credit, out-spoken Shahar supporter -- Venus Williams in today's first semifinal, it's not surprising that she had run out of steam. Neither served particularly well, but a couple extra aces by the American and a few more faults from the underdog led to fairly routine win for Venus.

Sure it would have been a great story if she'd come back to take the title, but the run she's had this week certainly does something to stick it to the city that owes her so much. Of course, things aren't perfect -- Shahar still constantly faces jeers from unruly fans and poltical tensions between her homeland and the U.A.E. haven't eased in the least. But the cool she keeps under such pressure shows just how strong a player -- and person -- she is.

And maybe when she returns next year, she'll be able to squeeze out a few more wins -- and another trophy!

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