Protected by two bodyguards as he walked on the court, Andy Ram became the first Israeli to play in Dubai on Wednesday, losing a first-round doubles match a week after Israel's Shahar Peer was denied a visa for the women's tournament.
|All the controversy was over in three sets [AFP]
Despite the tight security, Ram appeared relaxed and focused once he and partner Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe began the match against Marat Safin of Russia and Spain's David Ferrer at the Dubai Tennis Championships.
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 after the match, but organisers 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 to play in the women's tournament.
At the time, organisers cited security concerns for the decision, which prompted 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 received well in Dubai and did not encounter any hostility.
"Not at all really,'' he said. "From the first moment I arrived to the airport, (they) took me to the hotel, (treated) me very good. (I) went out...obviously with the body guards, the guys were watching me. Just really, they let me feel very comfortable.''
The small stand around the court was about three-quarters full.
"A few people were supporting him because of the controversy, but apart from that, it was just another tennis match,'' said Matt Nickels, a Dubai-based retail company employee from Britain.
|Elaborate security was in place at the tournament [AFP]
The United Arab Emirates has no diplomatic relationship with Israel, but Israelis with dual citizenship have entered the country for international sporting 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 organisers 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 organisers a record $300,000 last week and the UAE granted a permit to Ram to play in this week's men's tournament.
Ram's next brush with politics is not far away.
Swedish organisers of next week's Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel decided the teams will play without spectators in Malmo.
Organisers said they opted for the closed-door policy because anti-Israeli demonstrations are expected.
"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.''
Ram was chosen for the Israeli Davis Cup team on Tuesday, along with Dudi Sela, Harel Levy and Noam Okun.