As the clay season nears its climax at the French Open next week, a couple of the Arab players are already in Paris, as they prepare for their qualifying campaigns.
Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who won the Roland Garros junior title in 2011, has touched down in the French capital, where she will be seeded in the qualifying draw, thanks to her 113 ranking.
Jabeur started her clay season by reaching the third round of the WTA event in Charleston, as a lucky loser, before making the semi-finals of the $80k event at Indian Harbour Beach.
She’s a had a few tough tournaments since, though, losing in the second round at the Dothan ITF, dropping her qualifying opener in the WTA event in Rabat, and falling in the last-16 of the $100k in Trnava last week (but not before pulling off this impressive four-ace game).
Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat is getting ready to make his second appearance in Roland Garros qualifying (he lost his the only match he’s ever played there, back in 2014). The 26-year-old made a strong start to the season on hard courts but things have gotten a bit trickier for him recently on the clay. He did stretch Bernard Tomic to three sets in the Istanbul first round last month though.
Safwat faces a tricky Roland Garros qualifying opener against talented Russian-born Kazakh Alexander Bublik. The 19-year-old Bublik has already made a name for himself as a comedian on the tour (watch the video below).
Tunisian Malek Jaziri will feature in the main draw at the French Open, where he made the second round in 2012 (lost to Granollers in five) and 2016 (lost to Berdych in four).
After cracking the top-50 for the first time last February, Jaziri has now dropped to No70 having won just two of his last eight matches.
One player who is not going to be in Paris but has been rising in the rankings is Karim-Mohamed Maamoun. The Egyptian has made the step up from the Futures circuit and is competing in his fifth consecutive Challenger this week in Mestre, where he opens against sixth-seeded Turk Cem Ilkel.
After claiming five Futures titles this season, Maamoun has finally moved up the tennis order and has already claimed one match win on the Challenger tour.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Youssef Hossam is up to No558 in the rankings, while Sandra Samir is at 450.
Elina Svitolina said clinching the Rome title with a final victory over Simona Halep on Sunday was one of the top-three moments of her career.
The 22-year-old from Ukraine will rise to a new career-high ranking of No6 on Monday thanks to her impressive 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 success over world No4 Simona Halep in the Italian capital.
It is Svitolina’s eighth career title triumph, and second at the Premier 5 level, having won Dubai last February. Prior to Dubai, all of Svitolina’s six trophies were won at the International level (lowest tier on tour).
She now has won a tour-leading four WTA titles in 2017, and also leads the circuit with 31 match victories this season.
Asked if this was the best day of her career so far, Svitolina said: ” One of. I had Dubai tournament. Very tough, as well, because there was something very different, like very special because I was reaching the first time in my life top 10, winning that title. Also first time the biggest title of my career.
“So probably that one was one of my best days. And also, Olympics, for me, was best day (she beat the then world No1 Serena Williams in Rio). Okay. I can put them in top three maybe”
Svitolina, who won the French Open junior title in 2010 and reached the quarter-finals of the women’s draw in 2015, will head to Paris next week as one of the ones to watch, alongside Halep, a champion in Madrid earlier this month.
Her win over Halep means Svitolina is now 5-0 against top-five opposition in 2017.
She now hopes to translate her top form from the smaller tournaments to the Grand Slams.
“I have been working with my coach. We were just speaking about it, about preparation that I can do to prepare differently for a Grand Slam,” said Svitolina.
“Of course during the season, play less tournaments because now I’m almost each week playing, like, lots of matches. Also, because it also damage sometimes your mental part and your physical part in a Grand Slam, when you need to be there, like, 100%. Yeah, just takes time for me.
“Yeah, I know that I was not doing something right, but I will try to think about it. I have my coach who is there for me always, tries to help me, tries to give me something that gonna help me in this situation.”
Halep needed treatment after rolling over her right ankle in the second set as she hit a return from the baseline.
“I had pain. I had pain and I still have pain when I walk,” explained Halep after the final.
“Mentally, it’s not that bad. So I’m strong, still strong, so I don’t panic about this. I had many on the other leg, but this one is new. So I have to be careful with it. Physically I couldn’t run, so that’s why I didn’t do anything in the third set.”
Asked if she felt she can be ready for next week’s French Open, Halep, the 2014 runner-up said: “I think it’s enough. I think it’s enough for an ankle, but I have to do MRI to see what it is. I go home to do that, so tomorrow I will find out. Hopefully it’s not that bad. I don’t feel it that bad, but I still feel pain. So I have to go and check.”
Novak Djokovic confirmed American great Andre Agassi as his new coach Sunday, but said they did not yet have a “long-term commitment”.
“I spoke to Andre the last couple weeks on the phone, and we decided to get together in Paris. So he’s gonna be there. We’ll see what future brings. We are both excited to work together and see where it takes us,” said Djokovic, beaten 6-4, 6-3 in the Rome Masters final on Sunday by 20-year-old German Alexander Zverev.
“We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other in Paris a little bit.”
Djokovic returns to Paris next weekend as the defending French Open champion but looking to improve his clay court game after an inconsistent spell.
He parted with long-time coach Marian Vajda earlier this month, having also ended a three-year relationship with six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker at the end of last season, in a bid to get back to his brilliant best.
Becker took to Twitter to back Djokovic’s decision.
Given his performances of late, he will be hoping 47-year-old Agassi, an eight-time Grand Slam champion, can make a positive contribution.
The Serbian was outplayed by Spanish nemesis Rafael Nadal on his way to defeat in the semi-finals of the Madrid Masters last week. And despite reaching the final in Rome on Sunday, Djokovic looked well below his clinical best before losing to German starlet Zverev in 1hr 21min.
Next up is his defence of his title in the French capital, and Djokovic added: “He (Agassi) will not stay the whole tournament. He’s gonna stay only to a certain time, and then we’ll see after that what’s gonna happen.
“Obviously, Andre is someone that I have tremendous respect for as a person and as a player. He has been through everything that I’m going through. You know, on the court he understands the game amazingly well. I am enjoying every conversation that I have with him. But also, on the other hand, he’s someone that nurtures the family values, philanthropy work.
“He’s a very humble man, is very educated in just — you know, he’s a person that can contribute to my life on and off the court a lot. I’m very excited to see what is ahead of us.”
Agassi, unlike television pundit Becker, has been away from the sport for a considerable time having retired in 2006.
Djokovic said he managed to seduce Agassi, the 1999 French Open champion, smiling: “I persuaded him.”
He added: “He’s someone that has been so successful in this sport, and he’s a legend of our sport. He’s made a mark in this sport forever. He’s won everything there is to win in tennis. You know, he was a revolutionary player because he had this charisma, he had this, you know, approach to tennis and to life that was quite different from others.
“That’s why he was so interesting. Yes, he has been away from the tour for last 10, 15 years, but speaking with him, he’s been definitely following up closely all the matches, the big matches, especially on the TV.
“It was his call whether or not he wants to take that step and, you know, try to work with me. He has accepted it, and I’m very grateful for that. It’s exciting, of course. I’m very happy about it.”