Ram loses in first round at Dubai

Updated: February 25, 2009, 5:30 PM ET
Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Protected by two bodyguards as he walked on the court, Andy Ram on Wednesday became the first Israeli to play in this Gulf state. He lost a doubles match a week after Israel's Shahar Peer was denied a visa for the women's tournament.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, meanwhile, led the top six seeds into the quarterfinals of the $2.23 million Dubai Tennis Championships.

Second-seeded Murray, the winner of two titles this year in Doha and Rotterdam, scored a comfortable 6-2, 6-3 victory over Arnaud Clement of France, but top-seeded Djokovic had to fight hard to beat Jan Hernych of Czech Republic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

Murray will meet another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, for a place in Friday's semifinals, while Djokovic faces Croatia's Marin Cilic, winner of this year's tournaments in Chennai and Zagreb.

Seeds three to six, Frenchman Gilles Simon, Spain's David Ferrer, Cilic and Russian Igor Andreev, were also winners.

Ram appeared relaxed and focused once he and partner Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe began the first-round match against Marat Safin of Russia and Spain's David Ferrer. The fourth-seeded Ram and Ullyet fell 6-3, 2-6, 10-8.

Spectators had to leave their belongings outside, and metal detectors were set up outside the court. There were no protests or incidents, with about 100 spectators watching the match on an outside court.

Ram did not hold a news conference afterward, but organizers issued a transcript of comments made to a pool reporter.

"It was obviously something big, history here, what's been done, the first Israeli coming to play sport in Dubai," Ram said. "I fought for something really, really big and coming here was something big because it showed that we should not involve sports with politics."

Ram was granted special permission late last week to play in Dubai after Peer was barred from entering the country for her tournament.

At the time, organizers cited security concerns, prompting widespread protests and pressure to allow Ram to compete.

"It was different. It was an experience for me," Ram said. "They did everything possible to secure me. ... Coming to the court, obviously with a couple of bodyguards, was nice. I felt like, OK, as soon as we start the match, hitting the first shot to warm up, I was thinking tactics and concentrating to win the match, but it did not happen today."

Ram said he was well-received in Dubai, encountering no hostility.

United Arab Emirates has no diplomatic relationship with Israel, but Israelis with dual citizenship have entered the country for international sports and business events using second-country passports.

On some occasions, Israeli passport holders have been allowed entry for meetings held by the United Nations or other international agencies.

Dubai tournament organizers said Peer was denied an opportunity to play in the women's event because they feared fan anger over Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza. The WTA fined organizers a record $300,000 last week and the UAE granted a permit to Ram to play this week.

Ram's next brush with politics is not far away. The Davis Cup series between Sweden and Israel next week will be played in Malmo without spectators. Swedish organizers said they anticipated anti-Israeli demonstrations.

"When I heard about the decision playing without crowd, that freaked me out," Ram said. "This is really something bad I think, and there's nothing I can do about it."

In other matches, Simon was a 6-1, 6-2 winner over Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia, while Ferrer also scored a quick 6-4, 6-2 win over Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Cilic was stretched to three sets by Frenchman Julien Benneteau before winning 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 and Andreev also went the distance before beating fellow Russian Dmitry Tursunov 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.

Murray who had lost both his previous matches with Clement in 2006, including a final in Washington, broke early when Clement double-faulted in the third game and then again on the seventh to win the first set in just 39 minutes.

He then converted his third break point to go 2-1 up in the second and had three chances in the fifth, but Clement saved them all. In the ninth game, Clement saved one match point with an ace, but Murray had the advantage again after a stunning forehand cross-court return, before closing the match in just 1 hour, 23 minutes.

"The last couple of times we played, I was very young and he was a very experienced player," said the 21 year-old Murray. "But I am happy that I played much better than my first round. I served a whole lot better and didn't give him any chance to break. I think I adjusted well tonight."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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