Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat rang the New Year in the best way possible, picking up two victories to qualify for the Qatar Open main draw in Doha.
The world No199 from Mansoura beat Japanese world No127 Taro Daniel in his first match before overcoming French world No143 Vincent Millot 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 on Sunday to advance to the main draw in the Qatari capital.
Safwat faces Belgian wildcard Arthur de Greef in the first round on Monday.
The 26-year-old believes his strong preseason training with his coach Martin Spottl in Austria is already paying dividends.
“My coach and I had put a target for myself to qualify for at least four ATP tournaments this season, so that’s one of them,” Safwat told Sport360 on Sunday in Doha.
“We had a strong preseason, worked hard all year and during the offseason and tried to improve a lot of things on both the physical and mental sides and now it’s paying off.”
Lack of funds meant Safwat has been struggling to travel full-time with a coach but he’s had Spottl regularly in his corner for the past six months.
“I’ve been working on and off with him for a long time but we’ve been able to stay together continuously since last July, write before Wimbledon,” explained Safwat.
Speaking of his qualifying campaign in Doha, the Egyptian added: “It was really hot and it was tough conditions in the first qualifying round but I fought hard. I felt like the things we’ve worked on I was able to use them well in that match.
“Today (against Millot), mentally was a challenge after losing that second set 6-0. But I managed to come back even though I was lost in the match and was telling my coach I don’t know what to do and couldn’t put one ball in the court. But I got myself back in it which shows that the work I’ve done on my mental strength is paying off so far. I’m pleased with that.”
Safwat had a solid 2016 where he was one match away from qualifying to Wimbledon and where he reached his maiden Challenger final in Morocco.
He is the highest ranked Egypt and the second-highest ranked Arab on the men’s tour.
It’s been a positive start to 2017 for Arabs in tennis as Tunisian Ons Jabeur qualified for the Shenzhen Open main draw before claiming a 6-0, 6-2 first round victory over Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele on Monday. In the second round, the 22-year-old Jabeur takes on Nina Stojanovic, who upset fifth-seeded Hungarian Timea Babos.
Tunisian Malek Jaziri opens his Qatar Open campaign against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber in Doha on Tuesday.
Tennis is a peculiar sport – solitary, unforgiving, and warlike. For nearly 45 weeks a year, a player is expected to step on court alone, find his inner gladiator, and fight to win the last ball of the contest.
On a tennis court, emotions are laid bare and a person’s character shines through.
In most cases, you can tell a lot about a player’s personality from how they perform during a match.
Tomas Berdych is no exception.
On court, his game is a picture of control and consistency and his calm demeanour rarely changes. Off the court he is not much different – poised, collected and soft-spoken. His attention to detail extends to the way he dresses; always looking immaculate from head to toe.
The 31-year-old is entering his 17th season on the professional tour and has been a constant presence in the world’s top-10 since mid-2010 (barring one week last October).
He’s reached a grand slam final, has won 13 titles (including one Masters 1000), has taken two Davis Cups, and has registered victories over all members of the ‘Big Four’.
But as a major trophy continues to elude him, Berdych is still searching for new ways to take the next step.
Armed with a new coach in Goran Ivanisevic – whom he hired four months ago – and putting to bed health issues that hampered the tail-end of his 2016 season, the tall Czech is approaching the new year looking to implement changes to his game.
He’s lowered his ball toss to get better motion on his serve and is adjusting his goals to target the bigger events at the expense of year-long consistency.
But asked what is one thing he wishes he could dramatically improve, Berdych names something that is difficult to change.
“If it’s one thing, it’s that I would be able to get myself in the position that I can really be playing a little more careless, freely, that gets you to play much more aggressive,” the world No10 told Sport360 on Wednesday ahead of his Mubadala World Tennis Championship opener against Rafael Nadal on Thursday evening.
“This is something I had when I was much much younger. But I think that’s how the career goes when you get older, it’s how basically people are going.”
It’s no surprise that Berdych dreams of abandon in his ever-controlled game. Does he find his personality just as controlled off the court?
“Yes I think so,” he replies. “I think I’m the person that there’s not many things that can get me out of my comfort zone.”
Asked to recall the most daring thing he’s ever done, he says: “I’m not really that type of person that I would look for some of those extremes or something like that. I’ve tried a couple of things, adrenaline, but not really that I would be crazy about it.
“That’s probably also part of that. The guys who are wild, it can also show up on the court. Personality plays a big role in tennis for sure. So this could be part of it.
“But these are the things that are hard and difficult to change so you can’t really change that.
“Also tennis is part of your career but in the end you have much more after, so you have to always find some balance.”
Before appendicitis ruled him out of last summer’s US Open, Berdych had appeared in 52 consecutive grand slams since making his debut at the 2003 US Open. He’s made the quarter-finals or better on 15 occasions at the majors but is yet to walk away with the big prize.
Does it get to a point where it’s become a mental block against the top guys at the business end of the slams?
“I wouldn’t say it’s been a mental block. I don’t know, I haven’t got to that point,” Berdych insists.
“I think it’s also about what kind of opponents you’re facing.
“I think it’s a combination of so many things that needs to happen in those two weeks, that puzzle is so big and you have to collect all those pieces and sometimes you’re going to miss some of those. And really those details can be very small, they can start at the beginning of the tournament, they can start during, they can start in the last match… I think it’s really just about doing the work that you believe in, that’s the right path, and just keep going for it.
“That’s the only way how this can happen. And if it doesn’t happen and you’ve done all that you can, that’s alright.”
@MubadalaWorldTennisChampionship is always such a cool tournament Great to start my season in Abu Dhabi in December see you at the #MWTC— Tomáš Berdych (@tomasberdych) November 7, 2016
There is zero hint of frustration in Berdych’s rhetoric when it comes to discussing his shortcomings at the slams. At 31, he is a seasoned veteran but hardly one of the eldest guys in the sport.
Still, almost two decades on tour must feel like forever.
“Not forever but definitely for some time and I’m starting to feel it more and more as an advantage kind of,” he says.
“That I’m able to deal with things much easier and know what’s going on around. And I would say for this year I’m really looking forward to do it all again, having Goran on the team, working on new things and it’s basically something that can spice up the career. I’m feeling good about it.”
Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion, helped guide Marin Cilic to the US Open crown in 2014 before they parted ways five months ago. Berdych says the Croat is “calm”, “relaxed”, and simplifies things, which has been helpful on the mental side of things as well.
Part of his new approach is to reassess his targets for the season and try to zero in on the big events.
“I think I’m trying to look for more focused targets, more pointed to slams, big events, 1000 series, stuff like that, than just to look for the whole season being great, or being good,” said Berdych.
“I’ve done it all the years in the past, which is fine, but now if I want to look for something else, this is the thing.
“I don’t have to have another year of playing all the year very consistent. At the end though, I know that if I’m going to be healthy I can make it still again. So that’s okay. But it’s just the way you have to point for some big things.”
With Andy Murray deposing Novak Djokovic as No1, and younger players coming up like Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev, a changing of the guard looks to be taking place and Berdych is well aware of it.
“I think things are changing a bit, there’s obviously been the era of Roger, Rafa and Novak and now I think it’s the time of Andy. But at the end we are all still around, it’s not like the guys are gone or something,” he says.
“On that part it’s also quite difficult because you’ve been part of it for all those years and now basically there are new ones coming in and you still need to keep up with those.
“Sometimes you think that now it might be easier or something but obviously it’s not, there are new ones, strong guys… but I think it’s good. It’s a new competition, new goals, new challenges…
“Without the guys like Roger, Rafa all of them around I think my tennis would never be at the level it is right now. Probably I might be sitting here with one slam, or maybe not, there is always if. But the reality is that I think my tennis is at quite a high level because of those guys.”
An illustrious tennis career comes to an end as Ana Ivanovic announced her retirement on Wednesday.
The former World No.1 hangs up her racquet at the age of 29 and chose to make the announcement through a Facebook live post on her official page.
Speculation was already rife after the Serbian star said on Tuesday that she would reveal important news.
My dear fans & supporters. Pls tune in to my Facebook page tomorrow at 6pm UK time, where I'll be sharing something important with you live. pic.twitter.com/qRwf16kw4a— Ana Ivanovic (@AnaIvanovic) December 27, 2016
She has struggled in the 2016 season, winning just 15 matches all year and slumping to the 63rd spot in the rankings.
Ivanovic, who married Manchester United midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger this year, was due to begin the new season at the ASB Classic in Auckland on January 2.
Below is the Facebook live post on which she made the announcement to end her 13-year-long career.
She followed up the video with a post thanking her supporters.
What do you think of Ivanovic’s decision?