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Articles > This Andy Went to Dubai, That Andy Stayed Home

Israeli tennis player Andy Ram got to Dubai after all. Following all the fuss with Shahar Pe’er, who was barred from entering the country and thus kept out of the women’s draw one week earlier, (and having been denied entrance along with his regular doubles partner and fellow Israeli Yoni Erlich in 2008), the UAE authorities granted Ram a visa at the last minute. Ram was already in Europe when he got the word, and caught a plane to Dubai for the Dubai Tennis Championships, with its $2.23 M purse.

Once there, Ram reported having been treated very well. “From the first moment I arrived to the airport, they took me to the hotel, treated me very good. I went out … with body guards, the guys were watching me. … They made me feel very comfortable.”

Ram and partner Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe drew tough first round opposition in Marat Safin and David Ferrer, and lost 6-3, 2-6, 10-8, but Ram nevertheless felt that it had been a notable moment in history.

"It was obviously something big … what’s been done, the first Israeli coming to play sports in Dubai,” he 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."

Apparently, his hosts didn’t get that memo. Ram’s match was assigned to an outer court, and the spectators who came to watch were subjected to extra security measures, including having to surrender their cell phones upon entering the court. The customary indication of country of origin next to each player’s name was deleted for doubles play in Dubai, and Ram’s match was not shown on the jumbotron which carried all other matches live. (Of course, the name Israel still does not appear on most maps printed in the Arab world.)

After the match, a number of local tennis officials were heard to shout “Loser!” but that didn’t dampen Ram’s spirits in the least. “I don’t see any reason not to return to Dubai next year.”

With regular partner Yoni Erlich recuperating from an injury, Belorussian player Max Mirnyi was Ram’s partner in the latter part of 2008 (they won the Vienna finals in October) and through this year’s Austalian Open, and are slated to pair up for the upcoming tournaments in Indian Wells, CA and Miami, FL. In a recent interview, Mirnyi told the Center for Sport and Jewish Life:

We play sports and it shouldn’t correlate with politics. Unfortunately there are a few times when it does get in the way, like when an Israeli wants to go to an Arab country. The whole incident with Shahar Pe’er was unfortunate, and now the situation has reversed itself for Andy. Hopefully in the future political issues will not get in the way of sports. If anything, as athletes we want to promote peace, friendship and fair play – there’s no better way to do this than to go over and play, and I’m sure that every tennis player has that intent in mind.

Meanwhile, another Andy made history of his own by NOT showing up in Dubai.

Andy Roddick, who won the Dubai event last year, announced his decision to withdraw from this year’s tournament in protest over Ms. Pe’er’s having been barred from participating.

In a press conference following his victory at the Memphis Championships the week held the week before Dubai, Roddick remarked:

I didn’t really agree with what went on over there. … It’s just unfortunate that someone in the government can make a decision that reflects upon a tournament …something like that is disappointing to me.

As far as being the defending champ in Dubai, Roddick added:

There were a lot of factors why I probably should go. Obviously that I’ve played well there doesn’t make (this decision) any easier. I’ve had great times there. I’ve really enjoyed myself. Nevertheless … I don’t think you make political statements through sports.

Officials in Dubai tried to deflect Roddick’s decision, arguing that he had to pull out, as he couldn’t have made it to Dubai in time if he made it to the finals of the previous week’s Memphis tournament (which he did). Tournament sponsor Dubai Duty Free took their shot, saying that Roddick’s withdrawal was due to an injury – presumably the start of a hernia. (Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had, in fact, both pulled out due to injuries.)

Roddick shot back: “There’s no other reason (for withdrawing). Obviously I don’t have a hernia (or I wouldn’t have won in Memphis). I’m 100% healthy.”

In deciding to boycott Dubai, Roddick put his money where his mouth is, passing on a likely six-figure paycheck. Not only is he 100% healthy (bis hundert und tzvanzig- to 120!) – he’s 100% mensch!.

Note: Shades of Had Gadya. … In Memphis Roddick beat the Czech player Radek Stepanek in the final; Stepanek beat Dudi Sela in the semi-final. Back in September, Sela advanced to the final of the Beijing Championships, where he fell to Roddick.

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