Shahar Peer's trailblazing career came to an end this week. The 29-year-old officially announced her retirement on Facebook, closing the door on the 13-year career of Israel's best player. Peer won five WTA titles and peaked at World No.11 in 2011. But Peer's legacy was not limited to wins and losses. It was also about the power of sport as a force for change.
Playing in the Qatar Total Open in 2008, Peer became the first Israeli to compete at a WTA event in an Arab country. "After me other sports were allowed to go into Abu Dhabi and Dubai," Peer told WTA Insider this week. "Before me, it wasn't even considered.
"I really broke the barriers. From now on there is no way a player from anywhere around the world would not be able to play in any tournaments. That was huge."
In 2009, Peer was denied a visa to play the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships due to security concerns. "Only last minute when I was in Pattaya after losing to Zvonareva in the semifinals, that my dad said on the way to the airport that I cannot go on the plane," Peer said. "Everything was ready but they didn't let me.
"Before 2009 I couldn't get into the tournament because my ranking wasn't good enough," Peer said. "So the minute I got into the main draw I said it's one of the biggest tournaments, everyone is talking about it, it's one of the nicest tournaments, I don't see a reason why I can't play it but everyone else can play it. It's not a 125K tournament, it's an over $2 million tournament, one of the biggest ones.
"So for me it was more like 'I want to play this tournament, I'm like every other player, I want to play.' It wasn't like 'Oh, I want to show them' or being negative. I didn't know it was going to be a big deal because I didn't know they were going to ban me. It really was about me being a tennis player and everyone wants to play in Dubai, and wanting to compete at this tournament that everyone talks about so positively."
When the situation arose again a year later, Peer was granted a visa to play in Dubai, becoming the first Israeli woman to compete in the UAE. With heavy security surrounding an outer court, she rallied from 2-5 down in the third to beat Yanina Wickmayer in the first round and went on to make the semifinals, losing to Venus Williams.
"That was the first time ever [I was] crying after a match I won," Peer said. "Just understanding what I had done after the year they banned me in 2009. I came there with so much security. It was a crazy operation. I made the semifinals, but winning this match -- it was more than a tennis match."
"At the beginning, it was just 'I want to play this tournament.' Then after everything that happened in 2009, in 2010 it was about ok, we can break some barriers in politics with sport by playing in other countries so sport can be bigger than the politics. We can put it aside and be normal people. We don't have to go through the governments and everything.
"It started as I just wanted to play this tournament and then it became political. I'm happy it happened because otherwise things would look different than what's happening now."
Hear more from Peer in the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:
- Photos courtesy of Getty Images