With the prospects of a Gulf war intensifying, the windy city of Doha (pop. 500,000)—the capital of the desert nation Qatar—has been in the news an awful lot. Set in the Persian Gulf, some 340 miles from the Iraqi border, Doha is the U.S. military's nerve center in the Middle East and will serve as operational headquarters should the U.S. wage war against Iraq. Doha, where thousands of U.S. soldiers are stationed, is beyond the range of scud missiles that Saddam Hussein might have but is not impervious to attack: Last month terrorist gunmen opened fire near the military base, killing a U.S. Defense Department contractor.
Welcome to the latest stop on your favorite tennis tours. Last month the ATP held the Qatar Exxon Mobil Open at the Khalifa International tennis complex, 20 miles from where the troops are massed. On Monday, Monica Seles, Mary Pierce and other stars converged in Qatar for the $170,000 Total Finaelf Open, a WTA Tour event sponsored by an oil company. "You don't think about where you are," says Nicole Pratt, who's ranked No. 45. "Were staying at a Sheraton near a beach. We play our matches, and we go to the mall."
Yet at the tennis complex, security's tight, and the newspapers at the Sheraton on Monday had headlines about the pressing threat of war and regional unrest. The WTA, like the ATP before it, commissioned comprehensive security inspections before the tournament and got the all clear. "After that, I really didn't have much concern," says U.S. pro Jan-Michael Gambill, who reached the men's final. Players are also comforted that Qatar, an oil-rich sheikhdom and one of the more socially progressive Arab nations, has healthy diplomatic ties with tire U.S. Nor does it hurt that the athletes get feted like royalty. Seles was invited to a sheikh's stables last Sunday, and a Valentine's Day party is planned on a lush island. "We're taking every step to provide players with the latest security information," says WTA spokesman Darrell Fry. "You never know what's going to happen."