Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her country’s sporting profile
Last year, on a summer day in Cluj-Napoca, northern Romania, tennis player Mayar Sherif made history by becoming the first Egyptian woman to reach a WTA final.
On the same day, thousands of miles east of Tokyo, Feryal Abdelaziz became the first Egyptian woman to win Olympic gold when she emerged victorious in the karate competition.
Women’s sport in Egypt is at an all-time high, and Sherif, who kicks off her Australian Open campaign on Tuesday against Heather Watson, is honored to play her part in the movement.
“I feel the pressure and the responsibility. I feel like I want to reach much higher than where I am right now, but I still need to work and learn so many things,” the 25-year-old Cairo player told Arab News ahead of their opener in Melbourne.
“But I strive to do more. I’m not satisfied, I’m not like, ‘Oh, this is so good, this is so amazing.’ No, I’m still looking forward to it and still looking for more,” she said.
This relentless drive to improve is what makes Sherif one of the most outstanding Arab athletes of the moment, and why she became the first Egyptian woman to be ranked in the top 100.
Sherif, ranked 62nd in the world, is now able to go straight to most of the biggest tournaments on the circuit – uncharted territory for the rising star.
So far, his trip to Australia has resulted in two first-round defeats. However, her loss to world No. 37 Liudmila Samsonova in Adelaide last week was a close affair which saw Sherif challenge her higher-ranked Russian opponent.
“It’s not easy, of course; there are expectations. But I want to move forward and move up the rankings,” Sherif said, explaining his hopes for the 2022 season.
“But I have to think about my goals, what I have to do. It’s a good opportunity to be directly in the main draws, which will give me experience. Maybe it won’t pay off now, but it will pay off soon, I hope. It will come.
Against Samsonova, Sherif fired 14 aces and displayed a smooth pace on her serve throughout the match, only getting broken once in the final game of the contest.
“I’ve been working on improving my serve style over the last two years, and more recently we’ve been working on serve almost every day, to get the kind of consistency I had in the match against Samsonova,” Sherif said.
“The work paid off. For the past two years, I haven’t been as consistent in my serve. We kept changing little things. My serve style was disastrous so we changed one thing after another and now thankfully it’s almost over.
Adjusting to the WTA will take time and Sherif said moving to the next level of women’s competition will require greater attention to detail.
“The little things matter. Like against Samsonova, I had a lot of break points in the first set. I had set point, but in the important moments I didn’t play well. It’s the little things that count. If you have a chance, you have to take it because if you miss it, it might not come back,” she said.
“At the ITF you can miss a ball or two and still win the game. Here you miss a few balls, it’s not going to work. You have to be consistent throughout the game, don’t give up.”
Transitioning to the WTA Tour isn’t just about leveling up to compete with the best in the game, it’s also about making friends on the tour and getting familiar with your new surroundings.
“I get to know more people. Last week I played doubles with (Tereza) Martincova. We literally met five minutes before our first game. We were like, ‘Which side are you going to play? The reverse ? Great, let’s go. And it went well,” said Sherif, who qualified for the doubles final of the Melbourne 250 event alongside Martincova.
“Of course, a chance like this I wouldn’t have had if my ranking wasn’t high enough to get me into these WTA tournaments. I’m playing doubles for the first time at the Open. Australia, people are starting to call me to see if we should play together, so naturally I make friends, I know more people and Justo (Gonzalez), my coach, talks to everyone everywhere, so he makes me friends.
Sherif is undeterred by the prospect of facing tougher opposition now that she is moving up the rankings and has a clear vision of what she hopes to accomplish this year.
“I want to get on the court and compete; I want to feel the competition, no matter, win or lose, I want to gain experience. I want to be there,” she said.
“Consistency throughout the year is very important, and that’s something I didn’t do very well last year. And the start of this year, I’m starting a bit slow, it’s something I have to work on, to start the season in better shape, more competitive, I would say.
She added: “And I want to go all year with the same pace. Because last year, the first six months, I didn’t compete at all, I caught COVID-19 in the middle of this period, but I still could have done better, so hopefully I try to compete all year and get points everywhere I play.
Sherif said she was ready to pull out of some of the smaller tournaments, such as the $100,000 or $125,000 events on the ITF Tour, because she thinks it will help her gain stamina.
“I like to play $100,000 or $125,000 heats to gain pace and confidence before moving on to the WTA 250s. Just because my ranking is in my 60s doesn’t mean I won’t be playing those 100,000s. $ or even $60,000,” she said.
“Competition is always good, to feel those wins, to feel those important moments, and ultimately, those are the kind of games that put me in competitive mode last year.”
Sherif spent most of her off-season training in Alicante, but spent two weeks in Cairo, where she hosted an event that brought together all of her sponsors and backers, as well as key figures from Egypt’s sports industry. , to thank them for their support.
“It’s amazing, because every time I go to Cairo, people want to meet me, they want to congratulate me and tell me they’re proud of me. I always get those kinds of comments when I’m there, and it makes you feel, not on a tennis level, but on a personal level, that I really did something great for my country.” she declared.
“It’s beyond the rankings and the tournaments won or lost. So it’s still amazing.