Israeli tennis star Shahar Pe’er is makes her opening appearance at this year’s U.S. Open tomorrow, facing off against Hungarian player Agnes Szavay. Pe’er told Tablet Magazine in an email that she’s hoping to regain her footing after a season interrupted by political distractions.
Earlier this year, Pe’er found herself turned into a cause célèbre when she was denied a visa to play at a Barclays-sponsored tournament in Dubai just a couple of weeks after a cease-fire was declared in Gaza, allegedly over concerns for Pe’er’s own security. Venus Williams, who won the women’s side, publicly—though gently—criticized the tournament organizers for allowing Pe’er to be excluded, earning herself plaudits from the Anti-Defamation League, and American star Andy Roddick declined to defend his 2008 men’s title. “The Dubai issue was an important point in my life and career,” wrote Pe’er, who arrived in New York last week after being knocked out of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. “This incident has hurt me both personally and professionally—I was in a good run before Dubai and I was really looking forward to that tournament.” She said she wants to make sure that no other athlete from any other country ever has to face similar exclusion, but her more immediate concern is working her way back up from her current 63rd rank. “In past years—not last year—I did very well here, so good memories are something I love coming back to,” Pe’er said.
Meantime, she’s working overtime, appearing in an American Express-sponsored “rally experience” video game that fans can play on their cellphones. And she’s counting on the New York fans. “I always get a lot of support here from the crowd,” she said, “which I really love.”
Shahar Peer [U.S. Open Official Web Site]