Mohamed Safwat has shot at lifting Egypt's spirits at Wimbledon after painful World Cup campaign

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Chasing history: Mohamed Safwat.

Mohamed Safwat has a simple yet effective formula that is helping him make history for Egypt with every new milestone he hits on the tennis court: Keep your head down, stay hungry, don’t expect too much but always aim for more.

Barely a month after becoming the first Egyptian since 1996 to contest a Grand Slam main draw at Roland Garros, Safwat won his qualifying first round on Monday, 6-4, 6-4 over British wildcard Jack Draper, in an attempt to become the first player from his nation to play at Wimbledon since Ismail El Shafei in 1980.

Two years ago, on the same courts at Roehampton where the Wimbledon qualifying event is staged, Safwat came ever so close to qualifying for the All England Club showpiece but fell in the final round.

“It was a good experience for me, it was the first time in my life ever to play grass,” the 163rd-ranked Safwat told Sport360, reflecting on his 2016 Wimbledon qualifying journey.

“I was kind of loose, I didn’t expect too much. I feel now it’s different because I had my best Grand Slam result on grass [at the time], I qualified for an ATP 250 event and I won a round [in Antalya 2017], so if I look at it, my best results are on grass.

“It was a surprise to me but I’m trying not to be in the mindset where I’m taking everything for granted. If I don’t work for the things, they won’t come. If I said ‘yes, this is my best result, I made the final round in qualifying here before’ – and I was really aware of this before I came here and that was my challenge, to be in the right mindset all the time because if I go like ‘I feel good on grass, I play well here’…

“I’m not a grass specialist, okay I play well on it but I’m no specialist. But I try to fight. I try to make it hard for the other guys. Qualifying is a real fight. And if I think ‘everything is under control, everything is fine, I will manage to get here’ I won’t fight. I think for me this is my strength, fighting and accepting what’s happening and keeping on.”

At the same time as Egypt were losing to Saudi Arabia to exit the World Cup with three defeats from as many games in Russia, Safwat was battling Draper on court to set up a Wimbledon qualifying second round against American Michael Mmoh (taking place on Tuesday).

While Egypt’s first World Cup appearance since 1990 ended in heartbreak, Safwat has an opportunity to give his country reason to celebrate.

But if his achievements are causing a stir back home, the 27-year-old insists he is not really aware of it, as he tries to block any external distractions and not give too much weight to his historic feats.

“I wasn’t trying to get involved in anything,” he said when asked if had an idea of how Egypt reacted to his Roland Garros debut last month.

“It’s a fact, that whatever I do, everything is new and if I get this feeling that, ‘okay, I’ll be satisfied with what I achieved’, then I don’t think I will be willing to work and I will be willing to progress more. So I’m just trying to look at where I want to go.”

He feels Egypt’s World Cup woes stemmed from the immense pressure the team were under, especially with Liverpool star Mohamed Salah spearheading the squad.

“My thought is that people were expecting too much from them, there was too much pressure on them. I heard there were scores of celebrities going to their hotel the night before the matches, that’s too much pressure for a player, especially that they qualified for the first time in 28 years and everyone was expecting them to do well because they have Salah, one of the best players in the world,” said Salah of Egypt’s failings in Russia.

“We had a good group as well so the expectations were pretty high. The players were under too much stress and this is a culture thing. This is the mentality of many Arabs. Too much expectation, too much stress, the ‘Pharaohs’, this and that… just let them play, and when they win let’s celebrate. I think that’s what is stopping Arabs in many sports to go big.”

Despite having no grass-court matches under his belt heading into Roehampton, Safwat was pleased with his opening win over Draper.

“It’s always the first round that has a different feeling. He is young, motivated to play to justify his wildcard. I didn’t know much about him,” confessed the Mansoura-native.

“I was just trying to look for him on the internet, trying to find any videos of him playing and finally found one match. So I didn’t have much info about him. I believe he’s used to play on grass more than I do. I just needed to be aware at the beginning, be focused, give him a message that it’s going to be tough, that it wasn’t going to be easy for him.”

He added: “I always feel good on grass. I have the experience and I adapt quickly on it so it wasn’t a big problem to switch from clay to grass. The first practice, it was tough for me to move, and I was struggling a bit with the movement but I did some exercises, I have my coach with me here, so I adapted quickly.”

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'Chatty' Bernard Tomic speeds through opener, Thanasi Kokkinakis learns his lesson - Wimbledon qualifying diary

Reem 25/06/2018
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Finding his footing: Bernard Tomic.

Following his infamous press conference after his Roland Garros first round exit last month that saw Bernard Tomic use a total of 64 words to answer 10 questions, the talented Aussie set a new record at Wimbledon qualifying on Monday.

Tomic, who claimed a convincing 7-6 (1), 6-3 victory over Italian Matteo Donati on the lawns of Roehampton to reach the qualifying second round, was in no mood to discuss his win, nor his recent rise in form.

Making a point of being intentionally short with the media over the past few weeks, Tomic, who made the semis in s-Hertogenbosch as a qualifier 10 days ago, used just 43 words to respond to questions in his press conference on Monday.

Q: “How did you feel about how you played today?”

Tomic: “I played good.”

Q: “You said out there that the conditions were faster, so how did that help your game, do you like a quicker grass court?”

Tomic: “Of course it was a lot faster than last year for sure.”

Q: “Being back in qualifying, they  mentioned on TV about the memories you had in 2011 qualifying, do you think back to that a lot?”

Tomic: “It’s there, but I couldn’t really care.”

Q: “Doing well in Rosmalen, did that cost you a bit last week, you couldn’t really go anywhere?”

Tomic: “Yes I guess, I tried my best.”

Q: “How important was that week for you?”

Tomic: “Like any week.”

Q: “I realise you’re not as chatty as you used to be, is there any specific reason for that?”

Tomic: “I’m always chatty, what are you talking about? (smiling)”

Pause…

Tomic: “Is that alright?”

The 25-year-old then walked away. The conversation was all very civil and polite, but it also lasted a mere 56 seconds.

Tomic has had a tricky relationship with the press, and it hasn’t always been his fault. So, it’s understandable that he would decide to become cautious with journalists but his brief one-liners are probably not the best way to go. The good news for him is that he’s playing better and has a strong chance of making the main draw.

‘UNLUCKY LOSER’

Meanwhile, fellow Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis, who was in a much chattier mood than his compatriot, reflected on his unfortunate qualifying campaign at Roland Garros last month, where he lost in the second round but somehow missed out on a chance of getting into the main draw as a lucky loser because so many players — eight to precise — pulled out yet not enough competitors signed in to replace them.

Kokkinakis was in Paris but didn’t expect to have any chance of making it into the main draw.

“I had no idea how it worked,” confessed Kokkinakis.

“I never would have thought for a Slam if you lose second round you’ll have a chance at lucky loser and then someone told me I would have gotten in to play Bernie (Tomic) which would have been fun. I don’t know, it happens, I can’t get too angry. It’s just unheard of how many people pulled out. So it is what it is.”

It’s safe to say he will never make that mistake again!

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Novak Djokovic wants to keep going as he clinches victory number 800

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Novak Djokovic still has a burning desire to play tennis after racking up his 800th career win.

The Serb beat Adrian Mannarino 7-5, 6-1 to reach the semi-finals of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s, becoming just the 10th player in the open era to reach the landmark.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are the other two of those players that are still active and despite two years of struggle, both with fitness and results, Djokovic has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon.

“It’s a milestone, and of course it’s a great achievement,” he said. “Every achievement is a great achievement. I should be happy for it and proud of it.

“When you work all your life for something and then you get rewards for it, of course it’s obviously very positive and I’m thrilled.

“I’m grateful, as well, as I’m able to play so many matches and to win so many matches in my career.

“It’s still the sport that I love with all my heart. I put in that heart every single day, and I’m just very glad to be able to play semi-finals here after Rome and Roland Garros tournaments that went pretty well for me.

“But before that, it was a struggle with surgery and elbow and up-and-downs and trying to figure things out and get that consistency in the game.

“So I’m really glad that I was able to play the way that I did in the first three matches in this tournament, and hopefully I can keep it going.

“I will play as long as I feel like playing and as long as I have support from up there and from down here.

“So hopefully I can have many more years, because I truly enjoy playing this sport.

“I’m just grateful because I’m able to do something that I really truly love and enjoy and be successful in.”

On this evidence against Mannarino, which followed an impressive win against Grigor Dimitrov on Thursday, Djokovic looks to be heading in the right direction and will be a contender at Wimbledon in a fortnight.

He has played down that suggestion but accepts he is building some momentum.

“Sincerely when I came back after surgery, I thought that it wasn’t going to take me too long to build that momentum, but obviously it was proven to be otherwise,” he added.

“It took me quite a few months to actually feel comfortable playing again on this level, back-to-back matches and playing consistently well. I’m just very excited to be able to win in straight sets against very good players.”

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