Tennis star Mayar Sherif made a meteoric rise to make history for Egypt, showing the courage and confidence of a veteran to steal the limelight from even the country's football stars, at least briefly.
The 24-year-old put up a brave fight in the first ever appearance for an Egyptian female player in a Grand Slam tournament, bowing out with her head held high.
She gave second-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic a run for her money, stunning her by winning the first set 7-6 after holding serve before prevailing in a drawn-out tie breaker.
However, Pliskova rallied back to win the next two sets 6-2, 6-4 and avoid an upset in the first round of the French Open.
Sherif showed both resilience and talent in the other two sets despite losing them, earning praise from her 28-year-old counterpart after the match.
She became the first Egyptian female tennis player to feature in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament after beating Italian Giulia Gatto-Monticone in the final round of Roland Garros qualifying on Friday.
She also overcame Colombian teenager Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and American Caty McNally in the previous qualifying rounds.
Sherif, who grew up in Cairo and is currently ranked 172nd globally, is the second Arab to break into the top 200 of the world ranking, joining Tunisian Ons Jabeur.
Mayar started her professional career in her early twenties after graduating with a degree in sports medicine from Pepperdine University in 2018.
In the early stages of life, she followed in the footsteps of her sister; playing both tennis and badminton before deciding to only focus on tennis after achieving good results at the junior level.
At the age of 15, she travelled to Spain to participate in a summer training camp under the guidance of Spanish coach Justo Gonzalez-Martinez.
After finishing her secondary school education in Egypt, she attended Pepperdine University in California, where she produced superb performances in the women's tennis championship there.
"Honestly it feels amazing. I feel like I took the right path, because a lot of people say, 'Oh, going to college is a mistake', and all this. But I have so many years to play tennis and I started last year with the age of 23 and ultimately if you have the level, you're going to make it," she told the official website of Roland Garros.
"It's just about how long is it going to take you to make it? And now the tennis age is much older than before and you can keep playing for so many years, so I feel like there's no rush.
"Even if I don’t make it now, in the next two, three, four, five years I’ll be patient. I know I have the level, which is the most important thing."
Sherif enjoyed a truly remarkable year in 2019. Having started last year unranked, she broke into the world's top 200 after realizing several achievements, the most important of which was reaching the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
She won gold medal at the African Games in Morocco to become the first ever Egyptian female to qualify for the Olympics.
Special support from Mo Salah
Mayar's recent successes attracted the attention of football star Mohamed Salah, with the Liverpool winger supporting her on Twitter.
Salah, who has 13 million followers, tweeted about Sherif's success and commented with an applause emoji.
His support had a great impact on Sherif, who said in a TV interview after her elimination that she wishes to be an icon like him one day.
"It's very, very nice to get this kind of support from someone who is already very, very good, and someone who is very special from Egypt," she said.
"Salah is someone who is one of a kind. So it's very nice, it made me feel like, 'Oh, someone important is following, thank God'.
"Honestly it's very nice to see that people know who I am, that people know the effort I'm doing, that people know that, 'Oh, this person is special, this person is doing something different'. This is very, very important, it gives me a lot of mental support."
Mayar also repeatedly said that she drew inspiration from Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur.
"I used to look at Ons and think, 'Ons made it to the top 200, why can't I?' Ons made it to the top 100 and stayed in the top 200 for a long time, why can't I do that?" she said about the 26-year old Tunisian star.
More achievements to come
Despite her first-round loss at Roland Garros, Sherif believes she has what it takes to compete at the highest level and go the extra mile in the future.
"I hope to become among the best 100 players in the world. This is the first step of my dream, but I have bigger dreams. Maybe I will win the Roland Garros title one day. All I need is more experience," she told ONSports television channel.
"I will do my best in the coming period to make an achievement at the Tokyo Olympics next year."
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