Shahar Peer hopes her presence at the
Qatar Open will help promote peace [Chris Wang]
Shahar Peer created history by becoming the first Israeli tennis player to compete in a tour event in the Gulf region when she defeated Slovakia's Andreja Klepac 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the WTA Qatar Open in Doha.

Peer, a quarter-finalist at both the Australian and US Opens in 2007, arrived in Doha as the 12th seed for the $2.5 million tournament, transcending simmering political tensions in the region to play in the newly elevated Tier 1 event.

"The second I decided to come everyone was very supportive," Peer said at the post-match press conference.

"When I came here I was a little excited because I didn't know what to expect, just like every new tournament and every new place you go.

"I find the people are really nice here. I got a very warm welcome."

Delayed debut

The WTA event in Qatar has been running since 2001 with Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin among former tournament champions. But Peer, who turned pro in 2004, has been absent for varying reasons.

With the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex just 1,800 kilometres from her home town of Maccabim-Re'ut in central Israel, Peer has long thought of coming to Doha and is glad she finally made the journey.

"I was three years in the army, and I couldn't come, and before then my ranking wasn't good enough," Peer said, referring to her delayed Doha debut.

"But I really got a warm welcome from the tournament. I'm really happy being here.

"I have already been to the souk, and to dinner at a Moroccan restaurant."

Peace mission

If me playing in this tournament can help anything in the world, anything for peace, I'll be really happy.
With diplomatic relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours strained at the best of times, it has once again taken sport to show that people of all backgrounds can get along in a civil manner.

"When you go on the court you don't think about politics, you just want to go and play tennis," the Israeli said.

"If me playing in this tournament can help anything in the world, anything for peace, I'll be really happy. We try to separate sport and politics as much as possible.

"I think by me being here everybody can understand that we are also human and everybody's the same around the world. It doesn't matter if you're Jewish or Muslim or Christian."

Olympic dream

Last month Doha submitted its candidate city bid file for the 2016 Olympic Games to the IOC, with Peer's visit sure to raise the profile of the Gulf state, as its capital competes for hosting rights with the likes of Chicago, Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro.

Peer was positive about the possibility of the Games coming to the Middle East for the first time, and backed Doha as an emerging sporting capital.

"I think they can build a lot before the Olympics. This is a very rich country as everyone knows," the 20-year-old said.
 
"They have held so many events and have taken the [season ending WTA] Championships for the next three years which is a very nice things, and also have this tournament along with the men's tournament.

"If by me playing here helps them, I will be happy."

However Peer will not be playing in next week's Dubai Tennis Championship as she has already committed to the Memphis indoor event in Tennessee where she finished runner-up to Venus Williams last year.

The Israeli will play Virginie Razzano of France in the Qatar Open second round as she endeavours to make her first foray into the Gulf as memorable on the court as it already has been off it.

Source: Al Jazeera