Gael Monfils heaped praise on Mohamed Safwat after the French world No12 was given a run for his money by the Egyptian 199th-ranked wildcard in the Dubai first round on Monday night.
In front of buoyant crowd Monfils fought off Safwat in 80 minutes to claim a 6-4, 6-3 win on the No4 seed’s first Dubai appearance since 2008.
Safwat was making his debut at an ATP 500-level tournament and held his own against a player who was ranked No6 in the world just last month.
“You always expect a tough match, but I wasn’t expecting that he had so much power with his forehand. You know, his forehand was super fast and deep,” said Monfils of the 26-year-old Egyptian, who is the second highest ranked Arab man.
“Wasn’t missing that much. Wasn’t really expecting that he be tough in a long-term, you know, match. I think it was great, actually.
Safwat saved 15 of the 17 break points he faced and could not convert the sole break opportunity he created in the first set but troubled Monfils with his aggressive forehand and fearless tennis.
Monfils enjoyed playing against a rowdy crowd that was mostly supporting his opponent.
“I think they were happy, too, because Mohamed was playing very good tennis, you know, fantastic tennis,” said Monfils, who awaits either Dan Evans or Dustin Brown in the second round.
“For sure he’s pleased about his performance. You know, he had a wildcard and nothing to lose. Well, he played a tough one.”
Safwat was disappointed to lose but says he walks away from his first Dubai centre court experience with several lessons learned.
“It was a new experience for me, it was the first time to play on centre court at an ATP event. He’s a former top-10 player, it was not an easy match,” Safwat told Sport360.
“I didn’t start too well, the atmosphere was new to me. I tried to get into the match. I had a lot of pressure on my own serve but I managed to hold in many games. I was playing point by point.
“It was a lesson for me. I see where I stand now, I can work on the things I’m missing to compete at a higher level. I dropped a bit in the game in which I got broken in the second set. I tried to come back but it was tough to comeback against a player of his calibre.”
Safwat gave credit to the supporters in the stands that made his Dubai debut a memorable one.
“Mentally I was strong except in that game in the second set. I saved three match points but it was just so tough to keep climbing back from 0-40 and 15-40 all the time,” he explained.
“There were a lot of people supporting me, I guess that’s what motivated me even more to fight back in those games when I was down.”
Safwat will next have a training block before heading to the United States and Mexico for some Challengers next month.
Federer sauntered through his opening round match, defeating Benoit Paire 6-1, 6-3 in 54 minutes, in front of a packed house.
It was the first time Federer had stepped onto court since his Australian Open triumph over Rafael Nadal last month.
“I have played here for so many years, seen the tournament grow,” the 35-year-old told assembled media on Monday night.
“Especially after Australia, fans and myself know how special it is for me to be back on the court. It was a nice welcome. Very thankful always.”
Federer is next in action on Wednesday.
Federer, who breezed through his opening round match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, beating Benoit Paire 6-1, 6-3 in 54 minutes, has reiterated that his impending schedule will be influenced by how many matches he plays in the coming weeks.
After Dubai, the 35-year-old is due to play in Indian Wells and Miami (starting March 27th).
Federer will decide after Miami whether he wants to add clay court build-up tournaments, if any, to his diary – ahead of the French Open, which begins on May 28th.
Currently, the Swiss has not made any concrete plans beyond the end of March, aside from the Grand Slams and scheduled commitments such as the Laver Cup.
“Yeah, I said it already in Australia that I will only decide on the clay court swing after Miami,” the 18-time Grand Slam winner told media in Dubai on Monday night.
“So as of now, you know, if I lost every match from here on till Miami, you know, that changes things around, or if you won a lot of matches until the clay court season comes around. So all that plays into how many tournaments I want or can play and have to play.
“So, for me, I will really take it from there. What I meant with it, you know, in my best years I think I played three, sometimes four tournaments. That’s always going to be a hard ask right now, because also the body needs some always some healing again.”
He added: “I would also like to put in some build-up. And because of the week being gone after Wimbledon and now being put in between Paris and Wimbledon, I have less time also after Wimbledon going into the American summer.
“I hope it makes sense. I know you know what I’m saying. That’s why I need to just see how the American swing goes now, and then I will take it from there.”