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Ram falls at first Dubai hurdle

ANDY Ram, who was granted special permission to play in Dubai after fellow Israeli Shahar Peer was denied a visa, lost in the first round of the doubles at the Dubai Tennis Championships yesterday.

The fourth-seed pairing of Ram and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe fell 3-6, 6-2, 8-10 to Marat Safin of Russia and Spain's David Ferrer.

Ram's appearance comes a week after Peer was barred from entering the country to play in the women's tournament.

At the time, the organizers cited security concerns for the decision, which prompted widespread protests and pressure to allow Ram to compete. Spectators watching the Ram match had to leave their belongings outside, and metal detectors were set up outside the court.

Ferrer, the fourth seed, earlier eased past Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 6-4, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals.

In another early match yesterday, fifth-seeded Croat Marin Cilic struggled to overcome Julien Benneteau of France 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

In Acapulco, top-seeded David Nalbandian was knocked out by Austrian qualifier Daniel Koellerer 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the Mexican Open in Acapulco on Tuesday.

Nalbandian, last year's runner-up who won his 10th career title last month, appeared to be headed for a romp after winning the first set, but the Argentine's serve worsened and Koellerer was able to take advantage to win only his sixth-ever match on the main tour and his first since July.

Nicolas Almagro of Spain and Flavia Pennetta of Italy began their title defenses with straight-set wins.

Almagro, back in Acapulco as the fourth seed, spoiled Santiago Gonzalez's 26th birthday with an easy 6-4, 6-2 victory over the Mexican wildcard.

Women's second seed Pennetta swept Mariya Koryttseva of Ukraine 6-3, 6-1 to improve her record in the tournament to 25-4. Since she reached the quarterfinals on debut in 2003, Pennetta has made it to the final each year, winning in 2005 and last year.

Top seed Venus Williams survived a tough three-setter against Spain's Nuria Llagostera Vives, the American coming through 6-4, 4-6, 6-2

At Delray Beach, Florida, top-seed Mardy Fish worked his way into the second round of the US$500,000 Delray Beach International Championships with a 7-5, 6-3 opening victory over Canadian qualifier Frank Dancevic on Tuesday.

The world No. 20 is trying to break the jinx of the top seed having never won the title in the tournament's 17-year existence. "I'd love to break that jinx, but I've got some hurdles to clear," Fish said.

Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis pulled off the biggest upset of the day, using 13 aces to eliminate third-seeded Latvian Ernests Gulbis 7-5, 6-2.


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