The talk of tennis
Inas Mazhar, , Tuesday 29 Sep 2020
Seemingly out of the blue, a little known Egyptian female tennis player is serving up a storm of interest, reports Inas Mazhar

Mayar Sherif has made Egyptian tennis history. By reaching the main draw of the French Open, the 24-year-old has become the first female Egyptian to qualify for the main draw of any major international tennis tournament.

On Tuesday, Sherif played against the world’s second-ranked player Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, in the main round of the French Open, one of the four major Grand Slam tournaments in the sport. For the Egyptian, who is ranked 218 as of 14 September 2020, the odds were almost zero she would beat a former world No 1. However, Egyptians before the match had high hopes that the newcomer could spring a surprise, based on reports that claim Pliskova was injured.

Though Sherif lost the match 2-1, she gave Pliskova a run for her money in a match that took 2 hours, 20 minutes, winning the first set 7-6 (11-9) before losing the second two sets 6-2 and 6-4.

President of the Egyptian Tennis Federation Ismail Al-Shafei was the first Egyptian to play in Wimbledon and Roland Garros. He won the 1964 Wimbledon juniors event.

Sherif was also the first Egyptian tennis player to qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games after she beat Colombian Maria Osorio 6-4, 6-0 in her first match in the qualifications round of the French Open, the Roland-Garros Series.

In her second qualifier, the Egyptian also beat American Caty McNally 6-2, 6-4 before knocking down Italy’s Gatto-Monticone 6-1, 6-3 to make history by making it to the main round.

Egyptians took to social media to celebrate the player known as “Egypt’s Golden Star,” who became the first Egyptian woman to win three Grand Slam matches -- albeit all in the preliminary round. Suddenly, the right-handed Sherif became the talk not only of Egypt but in the Arab world. She has gone viral worldwide and the official website of the French Open, not least after Egypt’s famed footballer Mohamed Salah congratulated her on Twitter. The Liverpool star praised Sherif, tweeting: “You make history.”

After winning her first match, the Roland Garros Facebook page celebrated Sherif’s success with a picture captioned: “Making history. Mayar Sherif becomes the first woman representing Egypt to win a Grand Slam match!”

In Egypt, the National Council for Women lauded Sherif’s qualification. The council said it was an unprecedented achievement for Egyptian sport.

Sherif, who studied at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in sports medicine and was part of the university’s women’s tennis team, told Egyptian media that she was very happy with the achievement, adding that she was proud of the historical achievements made by Egyptian tennis.

Sherif added that she was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics by taking part in major tournaments.

The player won eight singles and six doubles titles in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) World Women’s Tour.

She also won a gold medal at the 2019 African Games in Morocco after defeating South African Storm Simmons 2-0 in the final. Ahead of the French Open 2020, Sherif also played in the Prague Open.

She has a career-high of 170 in the WTA rankings in singles, reached on 17 August 2020, as well as 218 in doubles, set on 14 September 2020. Sherif has won eight singles titles and six doubles titles on the ITF’s women’s circuit.

Playing for Egypt in the Fed Cup, she has a win/loss record of 14-10. She also won the gold medal of the 2019 African Games, which earned her a berth in Tokyo provided she still ranked within the top 300 on 1 July 2020, which she achieved.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 October, 2020 edition ofAl-Ahram Weekly.