Mohamed Safwat missed out on a chance to qualify for the French Open and become the first Egyptian since 1996 to feature in a Grand Slam main draw, but he is still clinging onto the slim chance of making it as a lucky loser.
Four lucky losers have already made it into the draw and Safwat, who was drawn seventh in the lucky loser lot, will need three more players to withdraw in order to get in.
The 27-year-old lost in the third round of qualifying on Friday to Argentina’s world No. 109 Guido Andreozzi 6-4, 6-4 at on Court 12 at Roland Garros.
Safwat created 11 break points on his opponent’s serve but could only break once throughout the match. The Egyptian world No. 182 saved 10 out of 13 break points before succumbing in one hour and 39 minutes in hot and humid conditions in Paris.
“As a clay-court player, he’s very good. I had a lot of chances to break in the first set, but I was speaking with my coach just now and told him that I think my level went down a bit on the big moments,” Safwat told Sport360 after the match.
“Second set I was up a break. It was small things, I think I stepped down, I was too cautious and my quality went down a bit and against such players if you step down just in one ball he will take it. I think that was the key.”
This is the second time Safwat has fallen at the final hurdle in qualifying at a Grand Slam, having also done so at Wimbledon in 2016.
He has made lots of progress on clay this season – a surface he has historically struggled with – and his achievements in recent weeks included a runner-up showing at a $150k Challenger on clay in Anning, China.
Despite being visibly disappointed over his defeat to Andreozzi on Friday, Safwat sees many positives from his qualifying campaign this week.
“It was a good week for me. I’ve been making a lot of changes on clay, I improved on clay. I had two tough matches before this one, so it was a good week for me. I feel there’s still a long way to go but such matches show you what you need to improve, what you need to do, what’s here, what’s missing, what you need to add to go up,” said Safwat.
Tamer El Sawy is the last Egyptian to contest a Grand Slam main draw, having played in both the French Open and US Open back in 1996.
Safwat knows he’s inching closer and closer to making history for the North African nation but is trying not to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of what he’s targeting.
“Of course it was a bit of pressure on me compared to other matches. But I tried to deal with it, I tried to remind myself what I’m trying to do, not looking too far ahead, what I’ve been working on to improve and to progress. But it was of course a dream, passion to play in the main draw to qualify but I’m sure it’s not the last one, there’s still many to come,” he admitted.
“I’m trying to isolate myself from media, Facebook, because I like to focus on what I need to do. I feel if I start to look too much outside, then I will be caring about this or that, to please people, it’s tough to make everyone happy. So I just try to focus on myself and see what I need to do.”
When I note that it’s been 22 years since an Egyptian played a Slam main draw, he quickly responds with a smile: “One day…”
Safwat hit a new career-high ranking of 174 earlier this month and believes he’s on an upward trajectory. Armed with a new coach, Austrian ex-world No. 17 Gilbert Schaller, the Egyptian is pleased with his progress so far. Schaller isn’t just helping Safwat on court, but also the decision-making off the court of when to stop for a training block and when to compete.
“I made some changes at the end of last year, I changed my coach. I’ve been with him since December. He’s trying to add new things to my game. Clay court I think was my weakest surface, I took a decision to start the clay-court season – that’s one of the reasons I didn’t play Davis Cup, we believe I need to be prepared, otherwise I go play Davis Cup indoors and then go straight to play tournaments,” Safwat explained.
“I just needed to make the stop and it’s unlucky that it was the week of Davis Cup but I feel that it was necessary to do that and it paid off. I started to improve, I think this is my seventh or eighth week on clay and I’m improving every week.
“Every week I play I feel I have a chance. I think it was needed that stop, and that’s what he’s trying, to add new tools for me, to make me an all-round player. That’s why I feel that in yesterday’s match, the first round match, I felt a big difference against such an opponent because I played him before and I felt different on court with the things I added to my game.”
His opponent on Friday, Andreozzi, is a player who had won 26 of his 30 previous matches on clay – a run that included two Challenger titles.
“Today, maybe he is a better player on clay but he has shown me something, what’s missing, what I need to add to get this one level above. So that’s what he’s trying to do with me and that’s what I needed a long time ago but everything comes with time.”
Safwat, who trains with Schaller in Vienna, will play for two more weeks on clay before he starts preparing for Wimbledon qualifying.
“I’ll try to play something before Wimbledon. Either Challengers or ATP, I’ll sign in and we’ll see,” he said. “I always love to play on grass but it’s always about the ranking because everyone wants to play the grass season, so that’s why I’m staying for two more weeks on clay, and then the week before Wimbledon I would really love to play if I have a chance.”
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