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.”