'I won't court controversy,' vows Shahar

Israeli No. 1 stands firm as demonstrators try to ruffle her feathers Down Under


Shahar Peer hopes that she can focus on tennis and not politics when the Australian Open gets under way on Monday. She was the target of anti-Israel protestors earlier this month and fears that the situation could escalate in Melbourne. The protests, over the unrest in Gaza, were so vociferous before her quarter-final encounter with world No. 4 Elena Dementieva that Peer complained to the umpire and security guards ejected them. After losing in straight sets, Peer said: “I came here to play tennis not talk about politics but I’m not using the demonstrators as an excuse for losing. “I have nothing to do with this. I’m Shahar Peer. I know I’m from Israel and I’m proud of my country and that playing tennis is what I’m going to do.” Peer’s brother, Shlomi, an army reservist, has been called up for active duty in Gaza. Peer completed her national service in 2007. During the competition in Auckland, she said: “I was crying a bit, actually more than a bit, so it was a hard time for me.” The fact is that Peer is a shadow of the player who reached the last eight of the Grand Slam event two years ago and rose to 15 in the world rankings. She has slipped to No. 40 and is not seeded in Melbourne. Last year she was the 20th seed and reached the third round. The signs are that she will struggle to go even that far. Earlier this week, Peer lost in the first round of the Hobart International to world No. 13 Flavia Penetta of Italy. Still only 21, she may yet recover her best form but there is a feeling that 2009 could be her make-or-break year, and clearly an impressive performance in Australia will put her career back on track. Tzipi Obziler, 35, will need to qualify for the main draw this year, having fallen to 177 in the rankings. Despite recently being elected on to the Givatayaim City Council representing the Green party, Obziler has flown to Australia to compete in the qualifying tournament. It is a similar story for Dudi Sela who has fallen to 106 in the rankings and having made the main draw last year must now win three qualifying rounds. Last week he suffered a second round defeat to Mathieu Montcourt of France (146) in the Tashkent Challenger in Uzbekistan. Sela beat Czech Jaroslav Pospisil (227) in straight sets in the first qualifying round in Melbourne. He was scheduled to play Giovanni Lapentti (216) of Ecuador yesterday. Men’s doubles holders Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich will not defend their title because Erlich is still recovering from surgery on his elbow. Ram will link up with the Belarusian Max Mirnyi. The duo won the Vienna Trophy competition together last October but preparations for Melbourne have not been encouraging. Last week they were knocked out of the Brisbane International in the quarters despite being the top seeds. They fared even worse at the Medibank International in Sydney, crashing out in the first round.

Update: Shahar Peer has been given a tough first-round draw against world number 12 Caroline Wozniacki. Dudi Sela is through to the third round of the qualifiers where he plays Grega Zemlja (197)  Tzipi Obziler lost in the second qualifying round.

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