Shahar Peer survived an early scare to secure a berth in the second round of the Australian Open.
Despite losing the first set in a tie-break, Israel’s top-ranked player – who reached the final of a WTA tournament in Hobart last week – defeated Czech Lucie Hradecka 6-7, 6-2, 6-1 in just under two hours on Wednesday.
“I think I was playing OK,” Peer said after the match. “In the first set I was playing a bit passively, then from the middle of the second set and the third set I was playing very well. I was playing my game, dominating and going for my shots so I am happy the way I finished the match.”
There were no signs of planned pro-Palestinian protesters, similar to those who caused a fracas in New Zealand a fortnight ago.
In fact, most of the 200 or so fans at Court 19 were vociferously supporting Peer; blue-and-white Israeli flags visible every time the Israeli hit a winner.
Australians for Palestine, which staged a small peaceful protest calling for a sports boycott of Israel on Tuesday, said on its web site that protesters would be refused access to the Melbourne Park precinct on Wednesday.
“We will continue with our protests in other locations for as long as Ms Peer remains in the tournament,” it said.
Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem, in Melbourne to support the Israeli players, said the politicisation of sport was wrong.
“For us, whenever they try to bring the involvement of political issues it always brings back the memories of Munich, the massacre of Israelis at the Olympics,” he told the JC. “Sport must always be separate from politics.”
For her part, Peer said after the match that the protests do no affect her preparation. "There is security going on around me, I don’t know exactly how much but I feel really safe,” she said. “I’m just focusing on playing tennis and I’m not here to focus on my security or what’s going on outside the court.”
The Israeli was caught cold in the first set, her serve broken as the 29th seed struggled to find her mojo.
She did manage to break back and force a tie-break, but the towering Czech led 5-1, and eventually closed out the set 7-5.
In the second set, Peer broke in the sixth game to lead 4-2 and never looked back, leveling the tie at one set apiece.
As the match wore on, Peer, 22, was back to her imperious best, striking the ball with conviction – the world No. 28 feeding off her enthusiastic band of supporters, fist-pumping as she clinched the match with a love game.
She now faces a fairly routine assignment against the unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova from Bulgaria, who is ranked 111th in the world.
Should she prevail, she would probably face Caroline Wozniacki, the Danish No. 4 seed who is in blistering form.
Melbourne has yielded good results for Peer over the years. In 2007 she reached the quarter-finals here – the first Israeli women to do so at a Grand Slam – and came within two points of defeating eventual champion Serena Williams.
The following year she reached the final in the women’s doubles, going down to Alona Bondarenko and her sister Kateryna in three sets.
In the men’s singles, Wayne Odesnik was put to the sword by 27th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
In the doubles, Yoni Erlich and his partner, Arnaud Clement, defeated Julian Knowle and Robert Lindstedt, the 10th seeds, in three sets.
The Israeli-French duo lost the first set in a tie-break, but qualified for the second round, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4.