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Wednesday, 22 June 2016 16:36 PM BST
Egyptian Safwat solves grass mystery
World No.219 needs just one more win to qualify for the main draw READ MORE

To suggest grass court tennis was a mystery to Mohamed Safwat before this year’s Wimbledon qualifying event would be understating his complete lack of familiarity with the turf.

The Egyptian, ranked No.219 in the world, had never played on the green lawns, let alone won a match.

But after his 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 upset of No.3 seed Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili on Wednesday, he is undefeated on the surface and just one win away from becoming the first Egyptian in two decades to contest the main draw of a Grand Slam.

“Yeah it was very tough for me, especially as it’s my first tournament ever on grass,” Safwat said.

“I’ve had two wins now. You’d have seen me falling down a lot. It was a really, really good win for me. I was trying to prepare as much as I could the last couple of days.

“I’m playing good on grass but I need to find a way to be stable on court.”

Despite relinquishing an early break against the world No.105 Basilashvili, Safwat was handed another chance to take the advantage when the Georgian threw in a double fault to bring up three break points at 5-6 in the opening set.

The Egyptian converted on a forehand error from his opponent before serving out the opening set with an ace.

Serving to open proceedings in the second, Basilashvili - looking to qualify for his sixth straight Grand Slam – hit a wrong-footing forehand winner, which led to Safwat slipping badly and letting out a yelp of frustration.

Uninjured, but somewhat shaken as he continued to lose his footing, Safwat would eventually concede the break for 2-4.

Basilashvili brought up three set points on serve with a backhand winner down the line and took it on his second chance after forcing the error.

The Georgian had his break-out Grand Slam result at The All England Club last year, where he won five matches on the trot to reach the third round.

I’m playing good on grass but I need to find a way to be stable on court

- Mohamed Safwat

He downed Facundo Bagnis and No.15 seed Feliciano Lopez en route, before falling to Roberto Bautista Agut.

With those points on the line to defend, he lifted, taking the second set and looked on track to qualify for the second year running when he broke in the decider for 4-3.

However, a pumped-up Safwat immediately quashed the advantage and would break again to seal the match when Basilashvili fired one final forehand long.

“I played some quallies of the slams, Australia (2014 and French Open 2014), but I always had first-round losses,” Safwat said. “I’m in the final round and that’s a big achievement for me and I’m looking forward to it.”

Not since Tamer El-Sawy lost in the opening round of the 1996 US Open has Egypt had a Grand Slam representative.

The milestone would not be lost on Egyptian fans.

“It’s such a passion to be participating in such a big tournament,” he said. “And Wimbledon in Egypt is very big, so that’s the ultimate.

“Yeah it would be big in Egypt because we haven’t had someone in the main draw of a slam for a long time.

“It would also be very, very good for my career to qualify for Wimbledon.

“I see it now and I’m excited.”

Men’s top seed Karen Khachanov continued his charge alive to qualify for the main draw of a slam for the first time, but only just.

The 20-year-old Russian eked out a 6-7(4), 6-4, 9-7 escape against Spaniard Enrique Lopez-Perez and will face Australian Matthew Barton next.

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Second-seeded Czech Adam Pavlasek had a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 victory over Darian King of Barbados while American No.6 seed Bjorn Fratangelo bounced back strongly to deny Frenchman Axel Michon 6-7(9), 6-1, 6-2, despite letting two set points slip in the opener.

Italian No.8 seed Thomas Fabbiano kept his hopes alive with a 6-4, 6-2 dismissal of Spaniard Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, however Russian Daniil Medvedev ensured Vincent Millot would not be qualifying for the second year running with a 6-4, 6-2 upset of the 31st seed. Dutch No.9 seed Igor Sijsling was among the first players to progress on Wednesday, with a 6-1, 6-3 result over Calvin Hemery.