Sherif living the dream from Cairo to Paris

The 24-year-old becomes the first Egyptian woman to win a match at a Grand Slam at the senior level.

Mayar Sherif, Roland Garros 2020, qualifying first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

Mayar Sherif grew up in Cairo watching Roland-Garros on TV every year.

Like most Egyptians, Sherif considered the Parisian Grand Slam to be her favourite – after all, it was played on her beloved clay – the most common surface for courts back home – and always available to follow at the click of a button.

On Wednesday, the 24-year-old became the first woman representing Egypt to win a match at any Grand Slam (in a non-junior event) thanks to a 6-4, 6-0 success over Colombian teenager Maria Camila Osorio Serrano in the first round of Roland-Garros qualifying.

“I always imagined myself and visualised myself doing something good here in Paris. I’m just enjoying it, it’s such a dream to be here and to compete here. I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as I can,” Sherif told, adding that she has many fond memories from watching the tournament over the years.

“When [Roger] Federer won Roland-Garros, I was jumping in front of my TV set. That’s the most vivid memory I have of the tournament growing up.”

Sherif is the most successful female tennis player from her country. At No.172 in the world, she is the highest-ranked Egyptian woman in history.

Last year, she started the season unranked, after graduating from Pepperdine University in the United States, where she played college tennis and made the NCAA semi-finals. Within 10 months, she cracked the top 200, collecting a whopping 71 match-wins along the way on the ITF circuit.

Mayar Sherif, Roland Garros 2020, qualifying first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

This is Sherif’s first visit to Roland-Garros since she played in Paris as a junior in 2012 and she is relishing every moment.

The Cairene is one of just two women – alongside Tunisian Ons Jabeur – from the Middle East and North Africa region ranked in the top 200 and hopes to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Jabeur made history when she hoisted the Roland-Garros junior trophy back in 2011 – an unprecedented achievement by an Arab female at any major.

Success at the senior level took some time but the 26-year-old Jabeur comes to Paris this autumn ranked No.35 in the world and with an Australian Open quarter-final appearance under her belt, courtesy of her heroics in Melbourne earlier this season.

Ons Jabeur, Roland Garros 2017, second round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

“I always think about the fact that there are only two of us in the top 200. A big part of it is because we don’t believe we can do it,” Sherif said. “We didn’t have anyone before us who has done it that would give us the belief that we could too.

“We don’t know the way, how to do it. 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?

“I saw how Ons took it step by step – maybe if we had better resources, or if we had someone to show us how to do it, maybe we would have made it sooner, but that doesn’t mean we will not make it, we have the chance.

“For the moment there’s only two of us, I hope the future generations can see us and think, ‘well, they have done it, why can’t we?’”

Sherif, competing in just her second Grand Slam, had an anxious start against Osorio Serrano on Wednesday as they exchanged seven breaks of serve before the Egyptian took the first set in 49 minutes. She steadied her nerves and served up a bagel in the second to book a qualifying second-round meeting with American teenager Caty McNally.