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Peer beats Klepac in straight sets in Gulf region debut

2/18/2008 - Tennis

DOHA, Qatar -- Shahar Peer became the first
Israeli to play a tour event in the Gulf region when she beat
Slovenia's Andreja Klepac 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the
Qatar Open on Monday.

Peer had been prevented by the Israeli government from
playing in the region while she was performing national service.
That service, administrative duties between tournaments, has
ended and she is free to compete where she wants.

"When I came here I was a little bit excited because I
didn't know what to expect, like every new tournament, every new
place you go," said Peer. "But I really got a warm welcome from
the tournament so I'm really happy being here.

"When you go on the court you don't think about politics.
You just want to play your tennis. I'm really happy to be
playing here and hope to keep it going as long as I can."

The impact of the occasion barely made a ripple. Played as
the first match of the week and away from center court, the only
sound that greeted Peer on to court was birdsong.

The spectators in the stands when the match began were
almost outnumbered by the number of officials on court and the
subdued atmosphere matched that of any opening round contest.

The quality of the match did little to enliven the occasion.

The first three games consisting of long baseline rallies
took 20 minutes, and after Peer held the first game there were
seven consecutive breaks of serve before Peer held again for the
set.

In the second set, after an early break each, 12th seed Peer
broke for 5-4 when Klepac netted a forehand and she then served
out the match to love.

Peer said she was pleased at the way she had been welcomed
at the tournament despite the heightened tensions between Israel
and its neighboring Muslim countries.

"I was talking with the security in Israel about if I could
come and right away the answer was positive," said Peer, who had
visited a souk and dined in a Moroccan restaurant while in Doha.

"It wasn't a problem and everything is good here with the
relationship, and I think by me being here everybody can
understand that we are also human and everybody's the same in
the world. It doesn't matter if you are Jewish or Muslim or
Christian.

"I find the people are really nice here, and everything is
normal. It's even nicer than some other tournaments. I'm not
coming here to help the politics of course, but if by me playing
in this tournament it can help anything in the world, for peace
or anything, I'll be really happy."

Peer is not playing at next week's tournament in Dubai
because of a long-standing commitment to an event in Memphis.

Former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo of France beat Sabine Lisicki of Germany 7-6 (2), 6-3. Austria's Sybille Bammer ousted Japan's Akiko Nakamura 6-1, 6-3, and Poland's Agnieska Radwanska edged Japan's Akiko Morigami 7-5, 6-0.

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.