Dubai future under threat as Israeli awaits visa news

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The Independent Online

The decision on whether to grant Israel’s Andy Ram a visa to play in the Barclays Dubai Championships here next week will determine whether or not the men’s tournament returns to the United Arab Emirates in future years. The Association of Tennis Professionals has written directly to the UAE government, seeking not only a prompt decision but also to convey how seriously it would regard a decision to deny Ram entry. The implicit message is that a refusal would lead to the death of the tournament.

There are increasing fears that the ATP will find itself in a similar situation to the Women’s Tennis Association which learned last Saturday, on the day before the start of this week’s women’s tournament here, that the Israeli Shahar Peer had been refused a visa. The WTA chose to go ahead with the tournament because it did not want to let down the other players, nearly all of whom were already in Dubai.

The ATP has been taking legal advice in the event of Ram’s application being unsuccessful. While it cannot unilaterally scrap the tournament, which is due to begin on Monday, the ATP could “unsanction” it, which would mean that it could go ahead only as an exhibition event. With no ranking points at stake, it is doubtful whether many top players would attend.

Leading players have been consulted, but the ATP will take no action until it learns of Ram’s fate. However, with security issues given as the reason for Peer’s exclusion, it seems unlikely that the world No 11 doubles player will be successful. In that event the ATP will immediately make it clear that it has no intention of returning to Dubai.

There has been widespread condemnation of the UAE’s stance. The Wall Street Journal European edition yesterday withdrew its sponsorship of the tournament, while the Tennis Channel, which had rights to broadcast the women’s event in the United States, has chosen not to do so.

Venus Williams defended the WTA’s decision to let the tournament go ahead. “We all have to look at the bigger picture,” she said. “There are other people involved. We can’t let our sponsors down. Whatever we do we need to plan it as a team – players, sponsors and Tour.”

Williams had little trouble reaching the quarter-finals, beating France’s Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-2. Her next opponent is the defending champion, Elena Dementieva, who overcame the Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-1, 6-3.

Serena Williams kept alive the prospect of a Williams sisters semi-final when she beat Jie Zheng, the Wimbledon semi-finalist, 6-4, 6-2. She now meets Ana Ivanovic, who beat France’s Camille Pin 6-2, 7-6.

The day’s big loser was Jelena Jankovic, who was beaten 6-2, 7-5 by the Estonian Kaia Kanepi. The world No 3 said: “It was just a horrible day. I kept framing the ball and making unforced errors. I just couldn’t put two balls together. It was awful. It was another player out there, it wasn’t me.”