Safwat, Egypt's flag-brearer in tennis

Safwat, Egypt's flag-brearer in tennis

Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat in action during the Bengaluru Open Tennis Championship at KSLTA in Bengaluru on Wednesday. DH Photo/ Pushkar V

It came a little after a decade since making his debut on the Challenger Tour for Mohamed Safwat. After walking away 133 tournaments empty-handed, there was finally a silverware at the Launceston International last week. A first by an Egyptian since Tamer El Sawny won back in 1996. 

"It was a big step for me, for my career. It’s good that it happened at the beginning of the season as it will give me the push for the upcoming tournaments," says Safwat, who is playing here at the Bengaluru Open Challenger.

"When I started (the tennis culture in Egypt) wasn’t good. Now, it’s much better. I have had struggles throughout my career. I play to go as high as I can. Later, I want to pass on the knowledge. I feel like it's my duty to make their path shorter than I had." 

And he has done his fair share already too.

Safwat has led the Davis Cup team for 11 years with an overall win-loss record of 25-16. Earlier this year, he became the first player since Ismail El Shafei back in 1978 to make it to the Australian Open main draw. Last August he won the African Games to become the first Egyptian man to qualify for the Olympics in tennis.

"It’s always an honour for any athlete to represent their country in the Olympics. It will be a good motivation for kids. So, they can dream and work towards it and believe in it because one from their country did it. So, they can too," says the 29-year-old.

"When I play Davis Cup, I see more and more kids. There are no shades in the stadiums; it’s always hot. But they stay for all matches. I feel that’s my major achievement. We just need time to build this culture."

Having struggled throughout his career with little support from the government, Safwat has done his hard yards. He played in the African circuit on his way up where the challenges in travel, attitude, heat, humidity and unpredictability are as high as the number of tournaments are less.

In a country where success in tennis has been as inconsistent as it is rare. A major victory for him is that the funds have started because he made it to the Olympics. It's still not among the priority sports, he admits, but it's a start. There is also the larger matter of representing the Arab community. While Tunisian duo Malek Jaziri, once ranked as high as 42, and more recently Ons Jabeur - ranked 45 and first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam - has done well to elevate the status, it's been Safwat who has consistently plugged on from Egypt.

"What Jabeur did was fascinating. She achieved a lot of things that never happened in the Arab world. Same as Malek Jaziri. He is an inspiration. We played in the African Cup and Arab Cup together. We are good friends," he says.

As a former goalkeeper, Mo Salah, is also an inspiration. 

"When you see people like Salah, who came from the same environment, you work. Same struggles, same culture, he started from nothing. So that gives you hope when you are down and struggling," he says.

He hopes to see Salah in Wimbledon. To play Wimbledon is the dream and to meet Salah, an honour. Two birds with one stone.

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