Milos Raonic suffers first-round exit on his Dubai debut, Karen Khachanov also crashes out

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Milos Raonic is confident his positive start to the 2019 season has not been derailed by his first-round exit in Dubai on Monday.

Making his tournament debut, the seventh-seeded Canadian fell to Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 on a windy day in the Emirates. After saving multiple match points, Raonic hit a shocking overhead unforced error, landing his smash in the net from an impossible tiny distance to lose the clash.

Asked if that overhead might haunt him later, Raonic told Sport360: “No I think there was a lot of other issues. It wasn’t a break point, so it doesn’t necessarily guarantee me that I’m back in the match at that point. There’s a few other issues I’d definitely be disappointed about, and I’ll take it, and try to be better next time.”

Raonic began his season by making the quarter-finals in Brisbane and navigating a brutal draw on his way to the last-eight at the Australian Open, where he defeated Nick Kyrgios, Stan Wawrinka, Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Alexander Zverev along the way before falling to Lucas Pouille.

The world No. 14 lost to Wawrinka in the Rotterdam second round earlier this month, before stumbling in Dubai on Monday.

“I wasn’t being aggressive enough. Maybe just tried to factor in the wind a little bit too much, it was quite gusty,” explained the 28-year-old Raonic.

“And I maybe wasn’t allowing myself to play as freely and as aggressive enough that I needed to. And it allowed him to get comfortable and to get in a rhythm. He was playing well, he took the chances and did better than I on the important moments.”

Raonis isn’t too concerned about his game despite his early exit, saying: “I’m not playing bad. I’m just not executing well in important moments. You go through a few matches where you get closer and closer and that sort of flips the switch quickly.”

This was his first appearance in Dubai after years of attempting to play the Acapulco event that coincides with this tournament in the calendar.

“I’ve had a great time. I’ve gotten out, obviously I wish, I would have liked to play much, much better. I wanted to do something different. The last few years I’ve never had the opportunity to play Acapulco all four, five times I think I’ve signed up I’ve always been hurt. I wanted to play indoors a 500 before this in Europe, and play another 500, and I thought maybe it would be a nice change to give this a try,” he said of his decision to finally make the trip down to the Emirates.

No. 4 seed Karen Khachanov also succumbed in the first round in Dubai, losing to Beijing champion Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-1. It is Khachanov’c third opening round defeat on the trot, having struggled with a viral illness earlier this month at events in Sofia and Rotterdam.

Basilashvili is ranked just seven spots below Khachanov in the rankings and was always going to be a tricky challenge for the young Russian in the first round.

“It was little bit strange conditions. He’s a tough opponent. I give all credit. He plays really well when he’s on,” said Khachanov of his Georgian opponent.

“It’s a little bit of everything, conditions. All the week I was really feeling well hitting. But today was some strange shots because of wind, plus he was hitting super aggressive. Sometimes I couldn’t come to offence really. I was, like, all the time kind of defending, not playing from myself. Just have to accept it then. That’s it, yeah.

“But he played well. At the beginning was everything more or less equal. I had some breakpoints. If I would have broken, maybe the match could go another way.”

Khachanov, a resident in Dubai, is sticking around for doubles, as he takes on Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury alongside his fellow Russian Daniil Medvedev on Tuesday.

Khachanov’s tail-end of 2018 saw him win two of his last three tournaments of the year, taking the title in Moscow before defeating four top-10 opponents, including Novak Djokovic, en route to the Paris Masters trophy.

He is hoping to recapture that form as he looks ahead to Indian Wells and Miami.

“Of course, it’s not nice to lose in some tournaments. I think nobody likes to lose. Maybe the results are not as I was expecting. Okay, I had some issues. I had some, let’s say, problems. I just have to accept it and really to keep working,” said Khachanov, referring to getting ill this month.

“At the end of the day nothing changes and nothing stops. Here, beginning of the season, I have to really believe that I need to get to the level what I was playing basically, not like something that I am dreaming about, but where I was playing, winning.

“It’s true, I can be self-confident and saying that I’m feeling well. Still, matches, they give you extra confidence that maybe you are looking for after certain loses that I really want to feel well.

“I need to really keep believing. Nothing changes. Keep believing in myself. I believe I can be where I want to be. This doesn’t have to stop me.

“Loses unfortunately always will be. Not as I wanted these three tournaments. Again, now there are two Masters Series that I really hope that I will be better.”

Speaking of his doubles with Medvedev, Khachanov added: “I’m playing doubles tomorrow with Daniil. I really have desire to play. It’s not like I am mentally completely out, I don’t like tennis. I’m not like that.

“Now I’m feeling maybe I’m a little bit out of maybe more matches. In these last weeks, I didn’t play as many as I wanted to really get more confidence in playing matches and winning. That’s why I am really thinking why not to play doubles, continue to practice, then we’ll see how we do in doubles. Depending on that result, we’ll think when to leave to Indian Wells. We’ll stay here these days, why not, it’s pretty similar conditions.”

Khachanov and Raonic’s defeats mean that sixth-seeded Borna Coric is the only seed left in Roger Federer’s half of the draw.

(Credit: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

(Credit: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

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Mohamed Safwat looking forward to long overdue rematch with Marcos Baghdatis in Dubai

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Mohamed Safwat remembers the first time he played Marcos Baghdatis.

It was in a Davis Cup tie between Egypt and Cyprus in Limassol in March 2010 and the Egyptian was 19 years old, ranked outside the top-1000, facing a 33rd-ranked Baghdatis, who had made the Australian Open final four years earlier.

Safwat lost in straight sets to the Cypriot, but by the end of that season, the North African had halved his ranking and began his road to becoming Egypt’s top player.

On Tuesday, Safwat takes on Baghdatis in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships first round, nine years on from that first meeting in Cyprus. It’ll be a battle between two wildcards, scheduled second on Court 1.


“It was a very important match for me back then, because it made a twist in my career,” Safwat told Sport360 of his Davis Cup clash with Baghdatis.








“I saw things differently after that and I started to develop and I won in the Futures, in the lower level so I hope Tuesday will also be the same.”


Baghdatis, now 33 years old and ranked 128 in the world, was runner-up in Dubai in 2016, and is making his ninth appearance in the tournament. He is a popular figure at the event and was spotted exchanging flying kisses with a male security guard by the practice courts the other day.


Safwat is making his second main draw appearance in the Emirates, and is looking to climb back into the top-200, after slipping to 218 earlier this month.


Last year at Roland Garros, Safwat became the first Egyptian since 1996 to contest a Grand Slam main draw and the 28-year-old maintains that it was the highlight of his career so far.


“Since last year I’ve been trying to improve my game, irrespective of results, winning or losing,” he told Sport360.


“Last year was a good year for me, I’m trying to build on that this season. I’m trying to keep up what I’ve done last year and looking at ways to take it to the next level, to start winning more consistently at the Challengers, maybe I win my first Challenger title. I’m just trying to improve and the results will come. The more you develop yourself, the result will follow.”


Marquee match-ups on Tuesday include a first-round showdown between third-seeded Marin Cilic and French entertainer Gael Monfils, while freshly-crowned Marseille champion Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Matthew Ebden of Australia.


Safwat is making his second main draw appearance in the Emirates, and is looking to climb back into the top-200, after slipping to 218 earlier this month.


Last year at Roland Garros, Safwat became the first Egyptian since 1996 to contest a Grand Slam main draw and the 28-year-old maintains that it was the highlight of his career so far.


“Since last year I’ve been trying to improve my game, irrespective of results, winning or losing,” he said.


“Last year was a good year for me, I’m trying to build on that this season. I’m trying to keep up what I’ve done last year and looking at ways to take it to the next level, to start winning more consistently at the Challengers, maybe I win my first Challenger title. I’m just trying to improve and the results will come. The more you develop yourself, the result will follow.”


Marquee match-ups on Tuesday include a first-round showdown between third-seeded Marin Cilic and French entertainer Gael Monfils, while freshly-crowned Marseille champion Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Matthew Ebden of Australia.



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Kei Nishikori backs Naomi Osaka to rise to occasion and win more Grand Slams

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Japanese star Kei Nishikori believes his compatriot Naomi Osaka has the mental strength and character to handle the spotlight thrust upon her after winning back-to-back majors in the space of four months.

Osaka’s Australian Open triumph in January followed her maiden Grand Slam success at the US Open last September. The 21-year-old Japanese became Asia’s first-ever world No. 1 after being ranked outside the top-70 just 12 months earlier.

Her meteoric rise has come with lots of attention, especially in Japan, and Osaka admitted in Dubai, where she lost her opener to Kristina Mladenovic, that the huge public reaction to the news of her coaching split has been tough to deal with.

Nishikori, who is eight years older than Osaka and has been the poster boy for Asian tennis ever since he reached the 2014 US Open final, admits that what she is experiencing is of bigger magnitude compared to what he had to face.

“It’s bit different, I think. It’s much more than me. She’s winning two Grand Slams in a row. Maybe year ago she wasn’t ranked top-10. Suddenly everything changed. She’s No. 1, too. I’ve never been top-three before,” Nishikori told reporters in Dubai, where he is making his tournament debut.

“Everything different. Many pressure, for sure. Being No. 1, winning Grand Slams, that’s something I never had before. It’s a bit different. It’s more than me, I think.

“I’m sure she’s going to adapt. Just need the time. She has great mental, very strong, very calm. She doesn’t get panic too much. I’m sure in time will get used to it.”

Nishikori is the top seed in Dubai this week, where he takes on tricky Frenchman Benoit Paire in the first round. It’s the first time Nishikori has opted to come to the Middle East, and he’ll be looking to keep up the good form he has shown so far this season.

The world No. 6 started his year by winning the title in Brisbane, before making the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and reaching the semis in Rotterdam.

“Well, it was always comfortable to play this week in Acapulco [instead of Dubai]. I used to play Memphis all the time. It was easier for me to play US side,” explained Nishikori on his reasoning behind changing his usual schedule.

“But I chose to play last week in Europe, and Dubai here. I always wanted to come here. Schedule-wise it wasn’t easy. But I chose to come here. Something new. It’s fun. I wanted to play two [ATP] 500s, so I chose to play here.”

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