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Israeli Tennis Player Performs Under Dubai Restrictions

Shahar Peer has made her debut at the Dubai Tennis Championships, one year after she was denied a UAE entry visa and forced to skip the tournament.

Shahar Peer has gotten off to a winning start in Dubai by beating 15th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium (3-6, 6-2, 7-5).

The victory follows one of last year's biggest controversies in tennis, when the United Arab Emirates prevented Peer from entering the country to play.

The restriction came just weeks after Israel initiated the Gaza War, which left more than 1,000 Palestinians dead, and tournament directors said Peer's safety in Dubai could have been in jeopardy because of the resulting sentiment in the emirate.

Nevertheless, most of the sporting world disagreed with the UAE's decision to ban Peer because of her nationality, and the Women's Tennis Association fined the Dubai tournament a record $300,000. 2008 champion Andy Roddick also refused to defend his men's singles title in protest.

Managing director of Dubai Duty Free, which organizes the Dubai Tennis Championships, Colm McLoughlin says organizers are putting last year's situation behind them and are pleased to have Peer playing this year.

"We are very happy," McLoughlin said. "Anybody who qualifies can come and Ms. Peer is ranked 22nd in the world at the moment. She is a good player. There were security concerns last year, which meant she could not come, but those have been overcome and she is going to be very welcome here."

But Peer is being treated differently compared to her fellow competitors in Dubai. Tournament directors have prevented her from talking directly to the press after her matches and her coach Pablo Giacopelli says authorities have stipulated that she can only travel from her hotel to the tournament.

"She is enjoying it, but she is not able to see very much because her move-abouts are restricted for obvious reasons," Giacopelli said.

Despite the restrictions, Giacopelli says Peer is happy to finally be competing in Dubai.

"She feels good. For her she is a professional and just coming into another tournament, but obviously, at the same time, there is a special situation with this tournament and she is obviously fired up and wants to do well," Giacopelli said. "But I do not think she is trying to rub people's faces in it. I think she is just wanting to do it from a professional perspective."

The United Arab Emirates does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, but its desire to become a hub for global events has forced it to put politics aside on several occasions.

Earlier this year, Israel sent its first minister to the UAE's capital Abu Dhabi to attend a conference of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is based there.

The UAE was chosen to house the IRENA headquarters last year, but only if it allowed all member states to attend meetings.