Egypt's Safwat reaches first career singles Challenger final

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New milestone: For Mohamed Safwat.


Mohamed Safwat became the first Egyptian since 1997 to reach a final on the Challenger Tour after he beat Germany’s Jeremy Jahn in the Kenitra semis on Friday.

His 6-1, 6-2 victory over Jahn saw Safwat enter his first career Challenger final in singles and he now has the chance to be Egypt’s first Challenger title winner since Tamer El Sawy triumphed in Bronx 20 years ago.

Safwat is also likely to return to the top-200 when the new rankings come out on Monday. His projected ranking right now is 198 and could be higher should he win Saturday’s final.

The 26-year-old El Mansoura-native won the doubles titles at the Meknes Challenger last week.

In June, he became the first Egyptian to win a match at Wimbledon – in qualifying or main draw – since Ismail El Shafei in 1976. Safwat made it to the final round of Wimbledon qualifying before falling to Tristan Lamasine.

He is determined to enter the top-100 – the only other Egyptian to reach that ranking was El Shafei in the 1970s – and has taken a different approach this season, investing more in traveling to Challenger tournaments despite it keeping him on the road for months at a time, away from his family.

On Saturday, he faces Germany’s Maximilian Marterer for the title in Kenitra.

“It feels great to be in my first Challenger final in my whole career,” Safwat told Sport360 on Friday.

“I’m happy to see all the hard work myself and my team have been putting in finally paying off.

“It just feels great and I’m looking forward to the final.”

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Serena withdraws from China events, Kerber returns to tackle tough Wuhan draw

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Serena lost in the US Open semis to Karolina Pliskova.

Wuhan, China — Serena Williams announced on Friday that ongoing shoulder problems have forced her to withdraw from the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, where Angelique Kerber has been handed a tough draw.

Williams, who recently told CNN she is “tired of playing unhealthy”, will be skipping the two events in China – Wuhan and Beijing – in hopes to return to action for the WTA Finals in Singapore end of October.

“I am disappointed that I will not be able to compete at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open or the China Open due to continuing issues with my right shoulder,” the second-ranked Williams said in a statement. “I have been practicing and playing but my shoulder is still not fit for tournament play.

“I wish the tournaments great success and I’m sure the fans will enjoy some great tennis. I am focused on getting ready to compete at the WTA Finals in Singapore.”

Williams has played just eight events this year, the fewest she has contested since returning from injury and illness in 2011.

The 34-year-old American lost her No1 ranking to Kerber, who is having a statement 2016 that saw her win the Australian and US Open titles en route to dethroning Williams.

According to Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, the No1 ranking is currently not a priority for his charge, and with her missing the China events, it’s unlikely she will be able to recapture it before the end of the year.

Instead, the Frenchman has set a rather ambitious target for Williams, who claimed an Open Era record-tying 22nd grand slam at Wimbledon in July.

“We decided to let go that No 1 spot for the moment. Maybe she’ll get it back but we shouldn’t focus on that – we focus on the grand slams,” Mouratoglou told CNN at his academy launch in Nice.

“I know people are going to be very much focused on the 23rd (grand slam), I’m more focused on the 30th. Why not set up a record that will never be beaten in history?

“I think she can do it.”

Kerber returns

The Wuhan draw was revealed on Friday and even in Williams’ absence, Kerber will have her hands full with the path she has been handed, in her first tournament back since winning the US Open title.

The German world No1 has a bye in the first round but then faces the winner of the clash between American big-server Coco Vandeweghe and French shot-maker Kristina Mladenovic.

In the third round, Kerber could face Williams’ Rio Olympics conqueror, Elina Svitolina, 2014 Wuhan champion Petra Kvitova, or tricky Latvian teenager Jelena Ostapenko.

In the quarter-finals, seventh-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro or 11th-seeded Johanna Konta possibly await.

Fourth-seeded Simona Halep and eigth-seeded Madison Keys are potential semi-final opponents for Kerber.

On the opposite side of the draw, No2 seed and last year’s runner-up Garbine Muguruza commences her campaign against either Australian Daria Gavrilova, or ex-world No1 Jelena Jankovic, who is contesting a final today, 500 miles south of Wuhan, in Guangzhou.

Possible road blocks in the third round for Muguruza could be in the form of No15 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Czech world No21 Barbora Strycova.

US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova lies in Muguruza’s quarter of the draw while defending champion Venus Williams and No3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska – who could face-off in the quarters – are possible semi-final opponents for the Spaniard.

Venus, who beat Muguruza in the final here last year, opens against Yulia Putintseva or Anastasija Sevastova.

Radwanska has a brutal opener against either 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki, or tough lefty Ekaterina Makarova.

Caroline Wozniacki, who is enjoying a decent run of results following a season of injuries and a drop in the rankings, was dealt a cruel first round against Australian ex-US Open champion Sam Stosur. It will be their third meeting in 2016 and 12th overall.

Rio 2016 Olympics gold medallist, Monica Puig drew No13 seed Roberta Vinci in the first round.

The first round action in Wuhan commences on Sunday.

Wuhan fact file

Status: Premier 5 event

Edition: Third edition

Former champions: Venus Williams (2015), Petra Kvitova (2014)

Draw: 56 players + 8 byes

Prize money: $2,288,250

Surface: Hard courts

Did you know that?

Wuhan, the capital of the province Hubei, is the hometown of two-time grand slam champion Li Na.

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From James Ward to Mario Ancic: Top five Davis Cup heroes

Sport360 staff 22/09/2016
Passion: Ward, Troicki, Verdasco, Antic and Stepanek.

Leonardo Mayer proved a hero for Argentina as he won the decisive fifth rubber against Dan Evans to give the visitors a 3-2 win over GB in Glasgow to reach the Davis Cup final last weekend.

Here are other supporting cast players who have shone in recent years…

James Ward

Wasn’t a decisive fifth rubber but Ward’s upset over US No. 1 John Isner, 15-13 in the fifth, in the first round last year is arguably the reason GB won the whole thing.

Radek Stepanek

In 2012, in the 100th Davis Cup final, a 33-year-old Stepanek won the fifth rubber against Fernando Verdasco to give the Czechs a 3-2 win over Spain.

Fernando Verdasco

Facing Argentina in Argentina is always a monster challenge but that didn’t stop Verdasco from beating Jose Acasuso to seal a 3-1 final win for Spain in 2008.

Viktor Troicki

After Novak Djokovic levelled the 2010 Davis Cup final at 2-2, Troicki was the one who sealed it for Serbia, beating Michael Llodra for a win over France.

Mario Ancic

Aged 21, Ancic helped Croatia win a first Davis Cup title in 2005 by beating Michal Mertinak in a decisive fifth rubber for a 3-2 win over Slovakia in Bratislava.

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