'Proud Egyptian' Sherif raring to go in Paris

The 26-year-old becomes first woman from her country to win a main draw match at Roland-Garros

Mayar Sherif, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

Mayar Sherif fiddles with her necklace as she reflects on her historic opening round victory over Marta Kostyuk in Paris on Tuesday.

It's a gold chain with a pendant in the shape of Africa and it bears significant meaning to the 26-year-old Egyptian.

"This was a present from my mom actually. For me, I’m so happy and proud to be Egyptian, I’m so proud to be from Africa, to be an Arab; so this necklace represents all of these things together for me," Sherif told rolandgarros.com after becoming the first Egyptian woman to ever win a main draw match at the Parisian slam.

** UPDATE: Mayar Sherif has been forced to withdraw from Roland-Garros with a foot fracture **

Arriving to the French capital ranked a career-high No.49 in the world, on the back of two WTA 125 titles captured on clay in the build-up, Sherif is the sole remaining Arab or North African in the Roland-Garros draw after the surprising first-round exit of sixth-seeded Tunisian Ons Jabeur.

Sherif is aware that she's flying the flag solo now for an entire region and laughs at the idea of taking on that responsibility by herself this tournament.

"Oooff. No pressure, huh?" she says with a chuckle.

"Ons has been doing great. She is constantly giving me that extra push. Each time she does well, I tell myself I have to push myself a bit more.

"She was winning a WTA 1000 title (in Madrid earlier this month) and I was playing a 125-level tournament and telling myself, ‘Come on, it’s time to step up’.

"She pushes me in a way. Losing first round, that’s tennis for you, some tournaments go great, some don’t.

"For me, I’m just going to try to carry on with this attitude, positivity and the enjoyment on the court and hopefully the results will keep coming."

Sherif is the first Egyptian woman in history to break the top 100 and her popularity soared back home when she qualified for Roland-Garros two years ago and stretched former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova to three sets on her main draw debut.

Her exploits back then earned her a nod from football superstar Mohamed Salah, whom she later got to meet, thanks to a sponsor they share.

Mayar Sherif, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

On Court 12 in Paris on Tuesday, Sherif was cheered on by a group of loud and loyal fans who flew in from Egypt specifically for her match after winning a competition offer by one of her backers.

Sherif was thrilled she got to reward her supporters with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Ukrainian world No.58 Marta Kostyuk but more importantly, she couldn't be happier that her mother was there to witness it.

"My mom and sister are here. For me, this is a feeling that’s difficult to describe. But I can feel how proud my mom is of me," she beamed.

"She has never come with me to a tournament, this is the first one, so I’m so happy that she got to see me competing here and that she saw me win as well. I’m so happy for her that she got to witness all this in person."

Roland-Garros is the most popular tennis tournament for the majority of Egyptians, who grew up following the action each spring on their television screens.

Most courts in Egypt are clay and it is Sherif's preferred surface as well. She is 13-3 on the red dirt this season and will be looking to add another win to her tally when she takes on last year's Roland-Garros semi-finalist Tamara Zidansek in the second round on Thursday.

"Roland-Garros for me is special. I love the clay, I love the courts here, I love the conditions, the people, it’s in Europe, so it’s close to Egypt," says the Pepperdine graduate.

"For us Egyptians, since I was a kid, this tournament has always been special and I’ve had my eye on Roland-Garros from a young age. I step on court here and I immediately enjoy it; whether it’s main draw, qualies, win, lose, I enjoy it. So hopefully I keep this spirit here for every match I play."

Mayar Sherif, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Sherif names Rafael Nadal and Amelie Mauresmo as the first players that come to mind when she thinks of the terre battue.

Former world No.1 Mauresmo is the new tournament director at Roland-Garros but Sherif has yet to personally meet the French icon.

"I haven’t spoken to her but I get so excited when I spot her here. I feel she’s always busy though so I don’t want to bother her," Sherif added with a smile.

There is a recognisable element of confidence surrounding Sherif at the moment, which has helped her make these recent strides. She explains how moving up the tennis ladder requires certain adjustments for her every step of the way.

"Mentally I changed the chip a little, I have more belief in myself," she stated.

"Of course it’s not easy that every year I start from a new position, from a new ranking; stepping up a level or two, so at the beginning of the season – and the same thing happened to me last year as well – I get this initial shock to being at this new level and it takes me some time to adapt and to adjust my game, and improve.

"I’m proud of myself and I feel like I’m improving and that’s the most important thing for me."