Thursday, January 30, 2014

DAVIS CUP: Egypt all set for Moldova clash

Photo supplied by Mohamed Safwat. 
From left to right: Mazen Osama, Mohamed Safwat, Captain Khaled Baligh, Sherif Sabry, Karim Hossam, Karim Mohamed Maamoun

Egyptian duo Mohamed Safwat and Karim Hossam are optimistic ahead of this weekend’s Europe/Africa Group II Davis Cup tie against Moldova in Chisinau.

Egypt have fielded a strong team, headlined by their top two singles players Safwat and Hossam, ranked 203 and 339 respectively. The pair will feature in Friday’s singles rubbers with Safwat opening the tie against world No335 Maxim Dubarenco before Hossam takes on world No167 Radu Albot.

Safwat has an 11-5 record for Egypt in Davis Cup and is coming off a stellar season where he picked up an ITF-record nine Futures titles.

“It’s a very close tie,” Safwat told Game, Set, Match Egypt.

“The level of the players is almost the same, we’re all around the same ranking. Moldova have the home advantage for sure and they had great results last year but on the other hand our team this year is different than other years - four players in the top 500.

“We can play in fast or slow courts - doesn't matter for us. Tomorrow (Friday) I think is the most important day in the tie. We are neutral, not very relaxed and not very nervous and we prepared really well for the tie and we have our chances,” added the 23-year-old from Mansoura.

Hossam, a 19-year-old who rose from 1168 to 338 in the rankings last season, will be playing a Davis Cup singles rubber for the first time in his career. He won all three doubles rubbers he contested in last year’s campaign.

“I feel good,” said Hossam. “I’m playing well and the courts here are not so fast, close to clay. So I think we’ll play good matches.”

Egypt’s No3 player, Sherif Sabry, ranked No430 in the world, is scheduled to play doubles alongside Safwat on Saturday, but team captain Khaled Baligh can choose to field a different pairing, depending on tomorrow’s results.

World No509, Mazen Osama, 18, is the fourth player on the team.

The action kicks off on Friday at 14:00 local time (also 14:00 Cairo time).

Sunday, January 5, 2014

QATAR OPEN: Saturday Diary - Rafa waiting for Murray's call

 Image via Getty

The competition at the top in tennis may reach uber heights on the court but it never fails to amaze me how friendly the players are with each other off it – the ATP players that is (Serena and Sharapova are bucking that trend in the WTA tour).

The Australian Open is barely a week away and Rafael Nadal says he’s trying to schedule a practice with Andy Murray, one of his main rivals, in Melbourne.

“I am waiting the message of Dani (Vallverdu, Murray’s hitting partner) to practice.That's the real thing,” Nadal told us laughing. “I talked to him in Abu Dhabi last week, and I talked to him yesterday before he left. But he didn't know yet the days that he's practicing, that he's playing in Kooyong. So I'm waiting his message to confirm what day we are going to practice. 

“No, seriously, I don't see the competition that crazy way, no? I have a good relationship with Andy, and I'm always happy to practice with the good people and good players.” 

Meanwhile, things got more interesting in the media centre on finals day here as seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander made an appearance. The Swedish legend is in town shooting an episode of Mats Point for Eurosport and when asked if he plans on following the suit of his fellow 80’s stars Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg and dabble into the world of coaching again Wilander was quick to say: “No. There’s nothing I can help any of the top players with, there’s nothing they want from my game.”

Wilander said he can’t imagine any of the young players to upset the tennis order this season and when asked about where he sees Bernard Tomic is at the Swede said: “I don’t know, where is he? His brain just has to click in - find the right… ‘okay there it is, now I’m focused’. Who knows, maybe it’s fast cars, who knows? Something that inspires him to put his best foot forward every day.”

All the legends seem to be welcoming the notion of faster surfaces around the tour and Wilander is no different. He seemed happy to learn that the courts in Australia are reportedly quicker this season saying: “Oh nice, is that Lleyton (Hewitt)? I’m sure it is, and (Pat) Rafter. It’s better for us, it’s about time.”

Saturday, January 4, 2014

QATAR OPEN: Thursday Diary - How cool are Dreddy's shoes?

 Photo via Dustin Brown's Instagram 

It’s been a particularly successful tournament for the Germans in Doha this year with six Germans making it to the last 16 and four going a step further and reaching the quarter-finals.

While Florian Mayer was impressive in his dismissal of Andy Murray and Peter Gojowczyk did great in making his first career ATP semi-final, I don’t think anything has stood out more than Dustin Brown’s shoes. The German-Jamaican oozes coolness and flair, whether it’s his explosive serve-and-volley style, his long dreadlocks or his fashion sense.

Brown was famous for wearing fluorescent shoelaces, a different colour on each shoe but Dreddy – as he is known to his fans online – has now taken his fashion statements to a whole other level. Dreddy stepped on court in Doha wearing a fluorescent orange left shoe and a glaring yellow right shoe. He’s been donning those pair of Nikes around the Challenger tour for a few months but this week, Dreddy’s “boys” - as he likes to refer to them - have made their debut on the ATP tour. There’s been mixed reaction to the mismatched shoes but I have to say the German can certainly pull it off.

Meanwhile, the best opening line of a press conference award has got to go to Gojowczyk. “Hello, everybody. My name is Peter. I'm from Germany, from Munich.” The world No162 is not a very familiar face on the ATP tour, but after making it to the last four, where he took on world No1 Rafael Nadal, Gojowczyk figured it’s high time he introduced himself to the press. He went on to reveal that the last time he had spoken to Nadal was when he asked him for his autograph at the US Open a few months ago. What a difference a few months can make!

QATAR OPEN: Wednesday Diary - Santoro coaching Dolgopolov?

Real Madrid legend Raul Gonzalez was courtside yesterday at the Qatar Open joined by his wife and daughter and the Spanish international got to watch his compatriot Rafael Nadal grind out a three-set win over Tobias Kamke.

Also in the house were most of the PSG squad, who are in town for a friendly with Real Madrid, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani.

Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were scheduled to play an exhibition with Nadal on court but as the first two matches each went to three sets, the crowds were denied a chance to witness the showdown, which got canceled because the football players had to leave.

Photo via Fernando Verdasco's Instagram account
Tennis did not just cross paths with football last night. Fernando Verdasco spent New Year’s Eve with Ibrahimovic in the Qatari capital which could perhaps explain the Spaniard’s defeat to Victor Hanescu on New Year’s Day.

Elsewhere, the coaching bug seems to have caught on here in Doha and my interest was piqued when I spotted former world No17 Fabrice Santoro sitting in Alexandr Dolgopolov’s box during the Ukrainian’s match with David Ferrer. It turns out Santoro, who is in town covering the tournament for beIN Sports, is helping Dolgopolov for around five weeks in the upcoming period but no plan has been set in stone just yet.

The pair could be a match made in heaven with both of them having shots that do not exist in any tennis book. Rafael Nadal had described Dolgopolov as a “crazy” player before. With Santoro in his corner, things could only get crazier.

Another veteran spotted around the premises was former world No14 Younes Aynaoui, who was seen in one of the TV studios looking sharp in a suit – a rare sight for the Moroccan – and he also shared a practice court with the son of his good friend and compatriot, Karim Alami, who is the tournament director here in Doha.

Friday, January 3, 2014

QATAR OPEN: Jaziri targets top-100 return in 2014

Malek Jaziri is confident he will make a return to the top-100 despite the first round defeat he suffered at the hands of Tobais Kamke in Doha.

Jaziri, the highest ranked Arab in men’s tennis, had a tumultuous 2013 where a knee injury saw him slip to No168 in the world, after peaking at No69 midway through 2012.

But after hiring a new fitness coach who helped him work on his knee and physique during a short preseason in Paris, The Tunisian says he’s ready to get back to where he was and aim for higher in 2014.

“I had a good preparation in Paris. It could have been better but I tried to work hard on my fitness. I was injured in my knee so I rested a bit and now I’m working progressively with a new fitness coach. I’m trying to get better every week. I lost a little bit the rhythm of the matches so I need to get that back, practicing a lot, hitting a lot of balls with good guys and I will come back at a very good level,” Jaziri tells me in Doha.

“I usually play well in Doha, I’m not happy that I lost to Kamke but I’ll keep working and it will come.”

Jaziri has suffered numerous knee injuries throughout his career and he played in 2013 without having a proper preseason.

“2013 was very tough. Last year I saved my year, I didn’t have an offseason preparation, I played Roger Federer in Dubai without practice and then I started playing Challengers without practicing, I just played tennis. I ended up ranked 168 so I saved my year.”

He finished the year with a bang, winning the Geneva Challenger in October, but problems with the Tunisian Federation plagued the period prior to that. The Federation had ordered Jaziri not to face an Israeli player in a Challenger event in Uzbekistan and they were eventually sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), who banned Tunisia from the 2014 Davis Cup.

Jaziri, who gets financial support from the Federation, says it’s disappointing to miss out on the inter-nation event. “For sure I want to play Davis Cup. I want to honour my country. Davis Cup is special, it’s not like other tournaments, you’re playing with a team for your country and the other guys support you. The other guys also want to play Davis Cup, not just me, so it’s unfortunate,” said the 29-year-old.

When asked whether he would play should he get drawn against a player from Israel again, Jaziri said: “I try to play all the matches, I have nothing against anybody. If I have a match, I have to play. I do what I can.”