Marcos Baghdatis hails 'great competitor' Mohamed Safwat after tight win over Egyptian

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(Credit: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

Marcos Baghdatis hailed Mohamed Safwat’s fighting spirit after the Cypriot claimed a hard-earned 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory to reach the Dubai second round on Tuesday.

In a battle of two wildcards, Baghdatis fought back from 0-40 down to hold in his first service game of the final set and he got the break he needed at 4-all to edge past the inspired Egyptian on a windy day on Court 1.

“It was definitely maybe the most important game of the match. I knew that I couldn’t let him get away with a break, and with these conditions, it’s very tough to play,” Baghdatis told Sport360 of that big service hold early in the third.

“It was very tough out there. I don’t know what to say. The match could have gone either way. The conditions helped him a lot with his game and I couldn’t hit the ball very clean. But I managed to stay focused and calm and played pretty well in the important points of the match.”

Baghdatis next takes on Gael Monfils, who ousted third-seeded Marin Cilic on Tuesday, and will be looking to emulate his performance from 2016, where he reached the final in Dubai.

“I was struggling with my serve, but tomorrow is another day. I’m happy with the win. I think he fought very well, a great competitor and I wish him luck for the future,” the 33-year-old Cypriot said of Safwat.

“I hope tomorrow’s conditions will be a bit better so we can enjoy a bit better tennis and better feeling on the court, and I’m pretty confident I can do well.”

Safwat played a great first set but took his foot off the gas pedal in the second, falling behind a double-break. With Baghdatis serving for the second set, Safwat struck back and got one of the breaks to narrow the gap. The ex-world No. 8 served out the set on his second chance though to force a decider en route to victory.

Baghdatis had played Safwat in a Davis Cup tie in Limassol back in 2010, which was a match that helped a 19-year-old Safwat gain perspective and rise through the ranks. He is now Egypt’s No. 1 player and the second-highest ranked Arab man behind Tunisian Malek Jaziri.

“It’s good he learned something from that match,” Baghdatis said of his Davis Cup match against Safwat in 2010.

“Every match is for sure a lesson. I’m happy he sees it that way. He’s a great guy, he’s one of the guys whenever you see him, he says hello. So I wish him honestly the best of luck and plays even better and gets his ranking up because he deserves it.”

On his part, Safwat says he can walk away with positives from his brief visit to Dubai.

“Yeah, was a good match in general overall. I cannot say it was really bad match. I had some gaps in the middle like after the first set, I had some gaps. 4-All in the third was poor game from my side,” said the 28-year-old from Mansoura.

“If I look at the bigger picture, it’s just improving every week. Yeah, results will come eventually.”

The North African next heads to China to play some Challengers, which can require a bit of a mental adjustment after competing in a swanky ATP 500 tournament like Dubai.

“Back to reality,” Safwat said with a laugh. “Here, obviously I don’t play in such big events every week. But I try to take the experience. I try to push. I have my coach, my friends there. We try to support each other, push each other.

“Yes, it means the stadiums are not full in the Challengers. We’re trying to get the support from your team.”

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Gael Monfils admits Elina Svitolina's approach to tennis is 'too serious' for him

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They’re in a relationship, they sit in each others’ boxes courtside, and even share an Instagram account, but when it comes to their tennis routines and philosophies Gael Monfils says he and Elina Svitolina could not be more different.

Svitolina was in attendance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Tuesday night to witness her boyfriend’s 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 victory over Marin Cilic in the first round. The Ukrainian WTA star is a two-time champion in the Emirates.

Monfils, who came to Dubai high on confidence from his title run in Rotterdam earlier this month, admits that Svitolina is “too serious” for him in the way she approaches her tennis, but that their contrasting methods is what makes their relationship work.

“I admire what she’s doing, how she works, the mentality she has. It’s incredible. But I always say but not for me, not for me. She’s too serious for me. It’s her way. It’s her way to be where she is. Even to become better, you know,” the Frenchman told reporters in Dubai after setting up a second round against Marcos Baghdatis.


“Me, the only motivation that I will say that we have is to make the other proud. I love when she win. I’m very proud of her. I think same for her.








“For myself, I’m serious on my way, which is normal way. It’s not different. I put a lot of work with my coach, a lot of work with myself to be back. Definitely is a bit different than her. At the end we try to be at the top with different way, different culture. That’s the beauty of the relationship.”










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Monfils is known for his unique and relaxed approach to tennis, and he managed to reach No. 6 in the world in 2016 with that ‘joie de vivre’ attitude.


“I think what I’m doing, how I practice, I’m not sure like many players will be able to do what I’m doing. In a way, it’s different. I won’t be able to practice how some players do because it’s way different. Even I think it’s easier for me to adapt me to practice like them than them to practice like me,” added the 32-year-old.


The ever-entertaining Monfils took his head-to-head record against the third-seeded Cilic to a dominant 4-0 with his win on Tuesday. It seems like Cilic provides a good match-up for Monfils but he insists it’s a coincidence though.


“Just luck. I mean, when it’s luck… You know, I play him tomorrow, I can lose. It’s not every time. Today I was a bit better than him today,” said Monfils.


“I don’t particularly like his game. I think today what I see was one more time very, very good on the game plan set with my coach, like very good. This work. Is nothing with him.”


Cilic became the fourth seed to lose in the opening round in Dubai this week, joining Karen Khachanov, Milos Raonic and Daniil Medvedev.



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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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