Gael Monfils’ only previous visit to Dubai resulted in an opening round exit to Tomas Berdych and the Frenchman is now back in the city for the first time since 2008, looking to erase that memory and live up to his No4 seeding.
The ever-entertaining 30-year-old faces 199th-ranked Egyptian wildcard Mohamed Safwat in the first round on Monday night and insists he is not taking anything for granted.
“I lost to Tomas Berdych here in the first round. It was a tough draw. I’m not confident to make the first one because every match is tough. I’m just confident to be 100 per cent,” Monfils told reporters in Dubai on Sunday.
“I know a little bit about Safwat, I saw him play a couple of times. I know how he’s playing. I saw him in Doha, I saw him a little bit around…”
Monfils ended last season ranked No6 in the world after making the US Open semi-finals – his first grand slam semi in eight years – and picking up a title in Washington.
He has now dropped to No12 in the world but has shown solid form in the two tournaments he has contested to far this season, at the Australian Open, where he lost to Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, and in Marseille, where he reached the quarters before exiting to Richard Gasquet.
He made his first appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals in November, and is hoping he can carry the consistency he showed last season into this year.
“We never know why but I guess it was I had confidence early in the season. We worked hard, we changed a lot of things and maybe that was the benefit,” Monfils says of the reasons behind the progress he made last season.
“My goals are pretty much the same, to play with a lot of consistency, try to catch a big title at the end.
“We have to keep doing what we’re doing, keep putting in the work, try to add new stuff to still improve, and at the end, most likely was to be as good as we’ve been last year.”
Safwat is playing his first ATP 500-level tournament main draw courtesy of a wildcard from Dubai Duty Free.
He is the second-highest-ranked Arab and is excited to make his Dubai debut against a top player like Monfils.
“I was discussing it me and my coach before the draw. I was expecting Roger Federer honestly (in the first round),” Safwat told Sport360.
“For me, I’m always looking forward to play one of the top guys. It’s really good to see where you are, what do you need to develop, because it’s a very long season – it’s a big tournament, it’s an important tournament for my career, I cannot ignore this; it’s a chance for me to get some points, improve in the ranking, get some confidence, but at the end of the day it’s just one tournament in a long season.
“It’s honestly good to play Monfils, he’s a top-10 player, he can show me where I stand, show me what I need to be there, to be in the top-10. I believe I have my chances, tennis is 50-50 when you go on court.”
Safwat has made a significant step up in the past seven months, walking away from the Futures circuit (the lowest level of tournaments in tennis) to the Challengers, and has even managed to qualify into the main draw in Doha last month.
He says a shift in mentality has helped him overcome his previous insecurities about competing against higher-ranked opponents.
“I feel it’s normal (now to be around top players). That was my main issue years ago, I wasn’t feeling comfortable, I was feeling insecure here, with all the big names, the players… but I’ve been working on this since July,” confessed the 26-year-old.
“I feel like this was the thing that was stopping me from going forward, because I had a good level, I have the tennis to go up, and as soon as I started to change, I started to think differently, I started to really improve mentally, I started to feel more secure, I started to feel I can compete, I started to feel that I can win, to believe more…
“Also I take everything as a lesson. It’s good to play with players who are better than you, to see where you stand, what you need to improve. This is what I realised that every tournament I played since the beginning of the year it taught me something.”
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