PARIS, MAY 27,
Grigor Dimitrov did not let a last-minute switch in opponent throw him off his stride as he subdued Egyptian lucky loser Mohamed Safwat 6-1 6-4 7-6(1) in the first round of the French Open on Sunday.
Safwat’s appearance on the Philippe Chatrier arena caught a lot of people by surprise, not least the organisers who were still flagging up Dimitrov’s showdown against Serbia’s Viktor Troicki on the large screens around Roland Garros even as the players made their way on to court.
But with Troicki pulling out with a lower back injury, the bearded Safwat was suddenly given a platform to make his Grand Slam main draw debut at the age of 27 despite losing in the final round of qualifying.
So when exactly did Dimitrov discover that the identity of his first-round opponent had changed?
“I finished my warm-up and went to the locker room and Viktor told me ‘good luck’ and I was like ‘what’s going on’?” a bemused Dimitrov said courtside.
It was a sentiment probably shared by Safwat.
With little time to collect his thoughts on becoming the first Egyptian man to make it into the main draw of a major in 22 years, Safwat appeared to be suffering from a serious bout of stage fright as within 40 minutes the Bulgarian fourth seed had romped to a 6-1 4-1 lead.
A medical time out taken by Safwat to treat blisters on his playing right hand gave him a chance to calm down his frayed nerves. The 182nd-ranked Egyptian skipped back to the baseline following the interlude and won back-to-back games for the first time in the contest by breaking Dimitrov.
The potions and lotions applied by the tournament’s trainer allowed Safwat to serve more confidently and he twice came within a game of taking the third set.
However, the challenge of toppling one of the top seeds was a task too far for a player who, before Sunday, had earned a grand total of $352,674 prize money after 11 years as a professional.
A netted backhand ended Safwat’s French Open odyssey but not before he banked the biggest pay cheque of his career — a princely sum of € 40,000 euros.
Svitolina sweeps past Tomljanovic
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina overcame a slow start to power past Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5 6-3 and become the first big name to reach the second round.
Under beautiful blue skies in the French capital, the fourth seed was broken twice early in the opening set before clawing her way back into the match from 5-1 down, by pinning her opponent behind the baseline and testing the Australian’s backhand as she rediscovered her groundstrokes.
The Ukrainian wrapped up the match with a comfortable second set, to stretch her head-to-head lead over Tomljanovic to 3-0.
“It was not an easy start and I had to really wake up. I had to step up my game,” Svitolina said straight after the match.
Svitolina arrived in Paris as one of six players with a chance of ending the tournament as World No. 1, and had not failed to make it to the second round of a Grand Slam since the U.S. Open in 2014.
The 23-year-old struggled to find her rhythm early on until the eight game when a Tomljanovic double fault handed Svitolina a second break point of the game. The Australian then hit long to make it 5-3 and Svitolina launched her comeback.
Tomljanovic lost the opening set with a cautious second serve that was dispatched by Svitolina, the Australian slamming her racket into the clay in an outburst of frustration after surrendering a four-game lead.
Svitolina dictated the second set, spreading the ball across the baseline and offering up some deft drop shots that stretched her opponent.
At 3-4 down in the second, Tomljanovic smacked a double-handed backhand into the net to hand Svitolina a break point, which she won easily before closing out the set.