It feels like home, says Israeli Peer as she makes a winning return to Dubai

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The Independent Online

Twelve months after becoming the first Israeli woman to compete here at the Dubai Duty Free Championships, Shahar Peer was back yesterday playing on what she calls "my court". The world No 11, a 6-4, 6-1 first-round winner over Spain's Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, played again on the outside courts nearest to the private locker room where she is kept apart from all the other players for security reasons.

Two years ago the tournament was fined $300,000 (£186,000) after the United Arab Emirates government, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, refused to allow Peer into the country, citing local sensitivities following Israel's military offensive in Gaza. The decision was widely criticised, with Venus Williams and Andy Roddick among those to voice their concerns, but Peer was granted a visa 12 months later and responded by reaching the semi-finals, a run that helped launch the most successful spell of her career.

Peer's visit this year has again been the subject of high security, with spectators having to pass through scanners before entering the court where she is playing. However, the 23-year-old Israeli, who will go on to play in Qatar next week, said she had been struck by her hosts' kindness here and enjoyed the experience last year. She even said that Dubai "feels like kind of home".

She added: "You come, do your job, and go back to the hotel. You're very concentrated. Last year I learned a lot for my future career, to try and not hang out at the tennis, to be there as little as possible and to finish, play my matches, win, and go back."

Did Peer think that by playing here she could help Israelis to be accepted in the Arab world? "Obviously I'm not the president or whatever. I cannot make big changes. If I can do something by playing, and Dubai and Qatar come to me and say, 'You can come' and they really appreciate it and put the politics aside, this is very important. I think we're all trying to make one thing together, to be human beings and to respect each other."

Ana Ivanovic's woes continued when she was beaten 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 by Switzerland's Patty Schnyder. The former world No 1, who has just parted company with her latest coach, Antonio van Grichen, appeared to be in control until the second set tie-break, when she argued at length with the umpire over a line call. She went on to lose the tie-break 7-2 and was swept aside in the deciding set.