Mohamed Safwat looking forward to long overdue rematch with Marcos Baghdatis in Dubai

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Mohamed Safwat remembers the first time he played Marcos Baghdatis.

It was in a Davis Cup tie between Egypt and Cyprus in Limassol in March 2010 and the Egyptian was 19 years old, ranked outside the top-1000, facing a 33rd-ranked Baghdatis, who had made the Australian Open final four years earlier.

Safwat lost in straight sets to the Cypriot, but by the end of that season, the North African had halved his ranking and began his road to becoming Egypt’s top player.

On Tuesday, Safwat takes on Baghdatis in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships first round, nine years on from that first meeting in Cyprus. It’ll be a battle between two wildcards, scheduled second on Court 1.


“It was a very important match for me back then, because it made a twist in my career,” Safwat told Sport360 of his Davis Cup clash with Baghdatis.








“I saw things differently after that and I started to develop and I won in the Futures, in the lower level so I hope Tuesday will also be the same.”


Baghdatis, now 33 years old and ranked 128 in the world, was runner-up in Dubai in 2016, and is making his ninth appearance in the tournament. He is a popular figure at the event and was spotted exchanging flying kisses with a male security guard by the practice courts the other day.


Safwat is making his second main draw appearance in the Emirates, and is looking to climb back into the top-200, after slipping to 218 earlier this month.


Last year at Roland Garros, Safwat became the first Egyptian since 1996 to contest a Grand Slam main draw and the 28-year-old maintains that it was the highlight of his career so far.


“Since last year I’ve been trying to improve my game, irrespective of results, winning or losing,” he told Sport360.


“Last year was a good year for me, I’m trying to build on that this season. I’m trying to keep up what I’ve done last year and looking at ways to take it to the next level, to start winning more consistently at the Challengers, maybe I win my first Challenger title. I’m just trying to improve and the results will come. The more you develop yourself, the result will follow.”


Marquee match-ups on Tuesday include a first-round showdown between third-seeded Marin Cilic and French entertainer Gael Monfils, while freshly-crowned Marseille champion Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Matthew Ebden of Australia.


Safwat is making his second main draw appearance in the Emirates, and is looking to climb back into the top-200, after slipping to 218 earlier this month.


Last year at Roland Garros, Safwat became the first Egyptian since 1996 to contest a Grand Slam main draw and the 28-year-old maintains that it was the highlight of his career so far.


“Since last year I’ve been trying to improve my game, irrespective of results, winning or losing,” he said.


“Last year was a good year for me, I’m trying to build on that this season. I’m trying to keep up what I’ve done last year and looking at ways to take it to the next level, to start winning more consistently at the Challengers, maybe I win my first Challenger title. I’m just trying to improve and the results will come. The more you develop yourself, the result will follow.”


Marquee match-ups on Tuesday include a first-round showdown between third-seeded Marin Cilic and French entertainer Gael Monfils, while freshly-crowned Marseille champion Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Matthew Ebden of Australia.



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Kei Nishikori backs Naomi Osaka to rise to occasion and win more Grand Slams

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Japanese star Kei Nishikori believes his compatriot Naomi Osaka has the mental strength and character to handle the spotlight thrust upon her after winning back-to-back majors in the space of four months.

Osaka’s Australian Open triumph in January followed her maiden Grand Slam success at the US Open last September. The 21-year-old Japanese became Asia’s first-ever world No. 1 after being ranked outside the top-70 just 12 months earlier.

Her meteoric rise has come with lots of attention, especially in Japan, and Osaka admitted in Dubai, where she lost her opener to Kristina Mladenovic, that the huge public reaction to the news of her coaching split has been tough to deal with.

Nishikori, who is eight years older than Osaka and has been the poster boy for Asian tennis ever since he reached the 2014 US Open final, admits that what she is experiencing is of bigger magnitude compared to what he had to face.

“It’s bit different, I think. It’s much more than me. She’s winning two Grand Slams in a row. Maybe year ago she wasn’t ranked top-10. Suddenly everything changed. She’s No. 1, too. I’ve never been top-three before,” Nishikori told reporters in Dubai, where he is making his tournament debut.

“Everything different. Many pressure, for sure. Being No. 1, winning Grand Slams, that’s something I never had before. It’s a bit different. It’s more than me, I think.

“I’m sure she’s going to adapt. Just need the time. She has great mental, very strong, very calm. She doesn’t get panic too much. I’m sure in time will get used to it.”

Nishikori is the top seed in Dubai this week, where he takes on tricky Frenchman Benoit Paire in the first round. It’s the first time Nishikori has opted to come to the Middle East, and he’ll be looking to keep up the good form he has shown so far this season.

The world No. 6 started his year by winning the title in Brisbane, before making the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and reaching the semis in Rotterdam.

“Well, it was always comfortable to play this week in Acapulco [instead of Dubai]. I used to play Memphis all the time. It was easier for me to play US side,” explained Nishikori on his reasoning behind changing his usual schedule.

“But I chose to play last week in Europe, and Dubai here. I always wanted to come here. Schedule-wise it wasn’t easy. But I chose to come here. Something new. It’s fun. I wanted to play two [ATP] 500s, so I chose to play here.”

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Roger Federer assures he's not planning his farewell tour just yet

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Roger Federer assured on Sunday that his decision to play on the clay this season for the first time since 2016 does not mean that he is treating 2019 as his farewell tour.

When the Swiss announced at the Australian Open – following his fourth round exit to Stefanos Tsitsipas – that he has opted to play clay tournaments this spring, speculation immediately arose surrounding the motivation behind Federer’s decision.

Panic struck among his fans, who assumed Federer’s return to the red dirt meant that he wanted to make sure he would play Roland Garros for one last time before he retired.

But the 37-year-old, who is the No. 2 seed at this week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, insists that is not the case.


“No, it’s not. I thought of it, in isolation, do I want to play the clay or not? The answer was yes,” Federer told reporters in Dubai ahead of Monday’s first-round clash against Philipp Kohlschreiber (19:00 local time).








“This doesn’t mean this is my last clay-court season, whatever, or I had to play one more time before I retired. That was not the thinking.


“All I knew is after missing it for two to three years basically, my body was ready, I was ready, my schedule with the family, my schedule with the team was ready to do it again. This is when I opted to say, ‘It will be nice’.


“Instead of taking a big chunk off, I’d rather stay in the rhythm and actually enjoy myself on the clay.”


Federer and tournament director Salah Tahlak at Burj Khalifa.


Federer has not played at the French Open since he lost in the quarter-finals there in 2015. He was injured and withdrew from the Parisian Slam in 2016 and he skipped the clay swing altogether in 2017 and 2018.


“It’s going to be challenging, no doubt about it. I have to take baby steps in the beginning to some extent, but that’s okay,” said Federer, who has already confirmed that he will be playing the Madrid Open prior to Roland Garros this May.


“I think after not playing for two years, also missing the French three years ago because of injury, I think the team understood that I was in the mood to do it again,” he added.


“I did grow up on clay, after all. I felt like my body is strong enough now again to do the surface changes from hard to clay to grass to hard again. In the past I felt different. I felt like it would be nice to go from hard to grass to hard, stay on faster surfaces.”


Federer will be gunning for a 100th career title when he takes to the courts in Dubai this week. He has played just one official tournament so far in 2019 and it ended with him losing in four sets to 20-year-old Tsitsipas, who saved 13/13 break points to end the Swiss’ title defence in Melbourne.


“I still felt like I played okay. It wasn’t like a horrible tournament for me. Played great at the Hopman Cup. I played good actually all matches. I just messed up on some big, big points. I’m not going to change my game because I missed out on some opportunities,” said Federer, reflecting on his Australian Open campaign.


Federer’s route to a possible 100th crown is likely to be a difficult one, with the likes of Fernando Verdasco, Milos Raonic, Karen Khachanov, Tomas Berdych and Borna Coric all in his half of the draw.


The 20-time Grand Slam champion clinched his 99th trophy in Basel last September and lost in the three tournaments he has contested since (Paris Masters, ATP Finals in London, Australian Open).


He is aware of the big milestone that awaits him but is taking a ‘it’ll happen when it happens’ approach to it.


“I think that’s got to be the mindset, that you try your best every match, every week anyway. Things fall into place or they don’t. It’s not because of lack of effort,” said Federer.


“We’ve been talking about 99 titles ever since Basel, every tournament I’ve played. There’s nothing new. Of course, coming to Dubai where I’ve enjoyed a lot of success sort of makes you believe maybe it could happen here. Then again, draw is tough. Haven’t played in a few weeks so you reset everything, get ready for your first round, hope everything is going to click again here in Dubai.


“It’s going to be tough. Look, I hope we can have this conversation in a few days’ time and see what happens.”



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