DUBAI — Venus Williams is on target to make a successful defence of her Dubai Championships title after yesterday's 6-1, 6-4 semifinal win halted Israeli Shahar Peer's remarkable run and ended the security agonies at the $2 million WTA event.
Williams had to overcome the distracting ambience of the smallest arena she can remember playing in before beating the first Israeli woman athlete ever to compete in the United Arab Emirates.
Even though Peer's victories over three seeds were more than enough to deserve a centre court match, security police still deemed it safer — after the allegations that Israelis assassinated a Hamas leader in a nearby hotel — to keep her playing on an outside court.
Hence Williams, a five-time former Wimbledon champion found herself making her way past the neem trees and small shops to play one of her oddest matches before earning a final with Victoria Azarenka.
There were spectators packed into the galleries at one end of three adjacent courts, coaches and entourage members at the other. But despite these distractions, Williams hurtled through the first set in only 23 minutes and withstood a spirited Peer revival before squeezing through in a well-contested finish.
"I can't even speak of what it must be like for her," Williams said afterwards.
"You know I wondered what it would be like playing on that court. How would it feel playing against her? (I wondered) if I would feel the pressure she might feel.
"But when I was on the court, honestly, I was focussed on the match. I didn't think about anything else. Just looking across at her it seemed she was doing the same thing."
Peer described her experience in Dubai as 'different but nice'. "I am sure I will remember this tournament for the rest of my life. I have made many friends in Dubai," she said.
"Unfortunately I couldn't manage to win it, which will be my dream. But there will be no complaints. I achieved a lot in this tournament, professionally and mentally and for myself."
"I am sure for Venus it was not ideal to come to court two and I told her afterwards that I really appreciated her support," Peer added, cognisant that her opponent had been honoured by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organisation, in New York in August.
"I think she has a really good heart and understands a lot of things, and I really appreciate her. It's not ideal to be on court two, but we have to do what we have to do."
Williams' final hurdle, against Azarenka, the world No 6, who came from 2-4 down in the second set to win 6-3, 6-4 against Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, may seem routine by comparison. — AFP