Soldiers, snipers and sniffer dogs - all for a game of tennis

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Rarely has there been as much fuss surrounding an occasion of such little consequence. Andy Ram and Kevin Ullyett faced Marat Safin and David Ferrer in the first round of the Barclays Dubai Championships men’s doubles here today, but for all the safety measures and security personnel it might have been a summit meeting between great world leaders.

This was Ram’s first – and, for this year at least, last – appearance at an event where his presence has been as big a talking point as that of any of the sport’s usual headline-makers. The 28-year-old doubles specialist is the first Israeli ever to play here, having been granted a visa last week only days after his compatriot, Shahar Peer, had been denied entry into the United Arab Emirates to play in the women’s event. The UAE does not recognise Israel.



Peer’s exclusion drew worldwide condemnation and the Women’s Tennis Association fined the tournament a record $300,000. If Ram had been denied a visa, the Association of Tennis Professionals had indicated that it would be in no mood to return next year.



There were also fears that other sports in the region might suffer in the wake of further controversy. Sport has become huge in the Arabian Gulf, where it has become a major part of the drive to bring more tourists to the area. There was no public explanation as to why Ram had been admitted but not Peer.



Ram and Ullyett lost 6-3, 2-6, 10-8 to Safin and Ferrer, but the match, played on one of the outside courts at the Aviation Club, will be remembered only for the extraordinary security precautions surrounding it.



After police had patrolled the court with sniffer dogs, spectators were admitted through airport-style metal detectors at the only entrance, under the watchful eyes of security guards and soldiers. Snipers were said to be patrolling nearby rooftops, though they could not be seen. Mobile phones, bags and drinks were not allowed in. During the match thirsty spectators had to queue for water poured into plastic cups.



Barely 200 people were in the stand and most of them appeared to be Europeans and/or members of Safin’s female fan club. There was little noticeable support for Ram, but virtually no opposition either, with only one audible boo in the whole match and a brief chant of “loser, loser” at the end.



Ram put away smashes to win the first point and the first game – both to polite applause - but was the first to drop his serve, in the third game. Nevertheless, Ram and Ullyett – the Zimbabwean suggested the one-off partnership in the injury absence of the Israeli’s regular colleague, Jonathan Erlich - fought back well in the second set and the match was decided by a closely-fought champions’ tie-break.



The security was maintained post-match, with only one journalist allowed to interview Ram in his heavily guarded personal locker room, which was in a separate building from the main clubhouse. Ram was escorted to and from the court by bodyguards, who have been his constant companions here.



After Peer was denied a visa, tournament organisers said they feared her presence “would have antagonised our fans who have watched live television coverage of recent attacks in Gaza”. They said they had concerns about Peer’s safety and feared protests and even boycotts of the tournament.



Today’s security measures underlined the authorities’ absolute commitment to guarantee Ram’s safety, though they did seem excessive. Public demonstrations and disorder, after all, are hardly the norm in the UAE. When Venus Williams was asked for her view last week on the security risk that might have been posed by Peer’s presence she replied: “Do people protest here?”



Ram said he had enjoyed his stay in the UAE. “It was a nice experience for me coming here and obviously the first priority for everybody, including the tournament director and the ATP, was my security. They did everything possible to secure me. It was exciting, nice, different – not something bad.”



The Israeli said he had been treated well throughout. He described Emirates as the best airline he had flown with, said he had been treated with kindness and respect at his hotel and had even gone out to dinner with his bodyguards.



Asked what he thought of reported comments by Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who had apparently urged him to boycott the tournament following Peer’s exclusion, Ram said: “This was something big. This was history, the first Israeli coming to play sport in Dubai. I fought for something really, really big and coming here was something big.



“It showed that we should not involve sports with politics. The Prime Minister is a friend of mine, but he’s a politician and I’m a sportsman. I’m focused on sport. That’s the beauty of sport. It’s so pure. It’s a bridge that connects people, countries, culture, religions, everything. I just hope this is the beginning of a great future ahead of us – in anything, in other sports, not just tennis.”



Ram said he had been dismayed by the news that Israel’s Davis Cup tie against Sweden in Malmo next week would be played behind closed doors for security reasons. “If they do this now it will open the door for any other place to do the same,” he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride