Israel’s top tennis player, Dudi Sela, won the Tashkent Challenger tennis tournament Sunday, beating Russian challenger Teymuraz Gabashvili in straight sets to take home first prize in the Uzbekistan tourney.
Sela, ranked 87th in the world and seeded third for the tournament, took just under an hour to dispatch Gabashvili 6-1, 6-2.
Sela is expected to rise at least 15 spots when the latest world rankings are released by the Association of Tennis Professionals, or ATP, later Monday.
“I’m thrilled with my win and the points will help to move into playing major events in the coming year,” Sela told the official Tashkent Challenger website after the match. “I’m also happy that I won the title here after five years. I congratulate Teymuraz for a good week but he looked tired today.”
Gabashvili, who won the doubles title Saturday, confirmed Sela’s suspicion.
“I congratulate Dudi for a great win but I was not feeling well and was too tired,” Gabashvili said.
The Israeli players’ participation caused a stir over the weekend when a Tunisian player refused to take the court against Amir Weintraub Friday night, reportedly on Tunis’s orders.
It is still unclear what punishment, if any, lies in store for Malek Jaziri, who officially withdrew because of a knee injury.
A spokesperson for the ATP said the tennis organization was looking how it may sanction Jaziri.
An email provided to Tunisia’s state news agency by Jaziri’s brother, Amir, proved that he was forced to withdraw by the government in Tunis.
“Following a meeting this afternoon with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, I have the immense regret to inform you that you are ordered not to play against the Israeli player,” the federation said in an email to Jaziri, according to the Tunisian press.
Sports ministry spokesman Sadok Touati confirmed to The Associated Press that the federation sent the email after consulting the ministry.
Earlier, ministry spokesman Ahmed Gaaloul, said that the government in Tunis had no official position on the matter.
“The authorities make no demands either on the federation or the players,” he told AFP. “The ministry of sports and youth and its minister Tarek Dhiab did not order Malek not to play this game.”
The federation president could not be reached for comment.
In an interview with a local radio station, Amir Jaziri said he and his brother were afraid the decision could harm the player’s career. He is ranked 169th in the world and could have risen to 135th with a win in Uzbekistan.
Jaziri and Weintraub are both members of the Sarcelles tennis club in France and have known each other for years, according to AFP. Club president Jonathan Chaouat said that Jaziri had seemed upset when he spoke with him Thursday night.
“He explained to me that he could not play the match and when I asked him where the pressure not to play was coming from he replied ‘my country.’ What is certain is that it was not Malek who decided not to play this match. Malek was taken hostage.”
Arab countries have for the past decades observed to varying degrees boycotts against Israeli athletes in protest over the Palestinian situation.
Shlomo Glickstein, director of Israel’s tennis association, said in a statement it was sad such incidents still occur.
“It’s a pity for the athletes who get caught up in these situations that end up hurting their personal career,” he said.
The ATP, the ruling body of men’s tennis, said it was in touch with the International Tennis Federation.
“There’s a clear distinction between the ATP’s jurisdiction over players and the ITF’s over federations,” ATP spokesman Simon Higson said. “We are looking into the specific circumstances of the case together with the ITF and will act accordingly.”
ITF spokesman Nick Imison said his group would write to the Tunisian federation this weekend to learn about the circumstances.
“The ITF believes that sport fosters good collaboration between nations. And, as such, players should be able to compete freely on the international circuit,” Imison said. “If a federation were responsible for a player not taking part that would go against the ethos of the organization and against the ITF constitution.”
He said it was unclear what, if any, sanctions could be imposed.
“The most important thing going forward is for Tunisian players to be able to play freely against any opponents in the future,” Imison said. “That is the aim of all the tennis governing bodies.”