Australian Open: Egyptian duo Mohamed Safwat and Karim Maamoun making history in Melbourne

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Good starts: For Safwat (l) and Maamoun.

For the first time since 1975, two Egyptians are competing in a men’s singles category at a Grand Slam, and Mohamed Safwat and Karim-Mohamed Maamoun made sure they commemorated that feat by winning their first rounds of Australian Open qualifying on Wednesday.

Safwat, ranked 222 in the world, commenced his campaign Down Under with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Estonian Jurgen Zopp, coming back from 0-3 down in the second set to secure a straight-sets succes.

Maamoun celebrated making his Grand Slam debut by battling past El Salvador’s Marcelo Arevalo 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.

The 238th-ranked Maamoun next takes on 37-year-old Frenchman Stephane Robert while Safwat faces 22-year-old Italian Lorenzo Sonego.

“The first Grand Slam is a big dream for me,” the 26-year-old Maamoun told Sport360.

“I always played to be able to compete in one of these big tournaments. It’s always been a big goal for me to play here, to compete and see the top players, so it was an amazing feeling. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, everything was really nice.”

While this is Maamoun’s first Slam, Safwat is competing in his seventh. The closest Safwat came to qualifying was at Wimbledon in 2016 when he won two matches before losing in the final round.

The Egyptian No. 1 is used to being alone at the majors but is thrilled he finally gets to share the experience not just with a compatriot but a good friend in Maamoun.

“It is really really nice to finally have someone to travel with, have a friend you know. Actually we didn’t have a chance to support each other today because we were playing almost at the same time but it’s always good to have a close friend from your country with you, to be with you, traveling with you, sharing everything,” said the 27-year-old Safwat.

“It’s really fun, it makes the tournament much better. I was happy we both managed to win today, he had a tough match. I’m sure it was a big moment for him too.”

Safwat is not content though with the two wins he and Maamoun scored on Wednesday and is eyeing far greater achievements.

“At the end of the day it’s only a first round of qualies. We don’t have to celebrate that much by just winning the first round of qualies if we really want to progress and have a better dream and bigger dream.

“It’s good but at the end of the day winning first round of qualies at a Slam – I’m sure the more we focus, the more we work hard, the more wins will come.”

Both Safwat and Maamoun stand out among the current generation of Egyptian players. The pair have been grinding it out on the Challenger tour while many of their countrymen are sticking to the lower-tier Futures circuit, with Egypt hosting tournaments at that level almost every week of the season.

Safwat has been playing Challengers more consistently since 2013 while Maamoun took the leap last season, to test himself against tougher opposition.

“I knew that I cannot make it with only Futures so I had to step up my game and try to compete at a higher level,” explains Maamoun.

“My coaches and I felt that I can beat these players, I have the capabilities to win these matches and win in big tournaments so I started playing Challengers more to get used to the big competition and the tough matches and it really helped my game and helped my mentality.

“I felt that I can compete, and I can do this, it made me believe more. It’s been really good. I’m happy with how I’m performing now. The previous year I was playing only Futures, now I’m playing this year a Grand Slam and I’m really focusing on Challengers, so it’s a very big progress for me and I’m happy about it. Hopefully I keep going to achieve playing the four Grand Slams this year.”

Maamoun shares Safwat’s sentiments and is thankful they can both support each other in Melbourne this week. The historic moment of have two Egyptians at a Slam is also not lost on him.

“Me and Safwat have been really good friends for a long time and last year we didn’t play many tournaments together but we always try to support each other, help each other as much as we can, so it’s a really good thing for me that I have him hear by my side and also that I’m there for him in his matches,” says Maamoun.

“I think it’s a very big thing that two Egyptians are playing in the same Grand Slam, I think it didn’t happen for a long time. And it’s also a good thing that we’re not in the same quarter to play each other so hopefully we can both qualify and it will be a very big thing for Egyptians and for young players to motivate them to keep going and chase their dreams.”

Safwat, who peaked at 187 in the world rankings in 2014, is approaching the new season with high hopes. He added Austrian ex-world No. 17 Gilbert Schaller to his team as a coach. Schaller famously defeated a second-ranked Pete Sampras in the 1995 French Open first round.

“I’ve been changing a few things, I’ve been working on my weaknesses. I’ve been developing my mental state. Basically it’s one of the best preseasons I’ve ever had, I really had fun,” said Safwat.

“I did half of it in Egypt, half of it in Vienna. With the changes I made I’m really feeling so much progress and I feel there’s more to come, I just need to keep up the progress.”

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Serena Williams will be ready for Australian Open, says tournament director Craig Tiley

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Australian Open title holder: Serena Williams.

Serena Williams will be ready to make her tennis comeback at the Australian Open with her return to Melbourne for the season’s opening Grand Slam “very likely”, organisers said on Wednesday.

Williams, 36, won this year’s Australian Open while pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl in September. She has not played a competition since, raising questions over whether the 23-time Grand Slam winner would attempt to defend her title next month.

But tournament director Craig Tiley is optimistic she will return for a crack at her seventh Melbourne Park crown after marrying Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian last month. Williams is yet to confirm the exact date of her comeback.

“She’s got her visa, she’s entered, she’s practising and she’s probably just got to find a bit more space for a bigger entourage,” Melbourne’s Herald Sun quoted him as saying.

“There’s no question that she’ll be ready in our view and she wants to break a record that is Margaret Court’s. It would be a pretty significant accomplishment for her to be able to do that.”

Australian Court has 24 major titles, making her the most successful player in Grand Slam history.

Tiley described the Australian Open, which will be held from January 15-28, as a “family-friendly event”.

“We’ve had this before. Roger Federer travels with his four kids and we are a family-friendly event,” he said, referring to Williams and her baby.

The winner of the 2018 tournament will walk away with Aus$4.0 million (US$3.0 million), up from Aus$3.7 million last year. The total tournament purse has risen 10 percent to Aus$55 million.

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Tweets of the Week: Fed, Rafa & Serena make Aus Open memorable

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Tennis fans were in seventh heaven as Roger Federer and Serena Williams clinched the Australian Open titles.

What’s more, it was a set of dream finals with Federer overpowering Nadal and Serena defeating sister Venus.

All those memories of previous years came rushing back. And here we bring you the top tweets from what was a memorable week.

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