As a young girl growing up in Egypt Mayar Sherif would sit and idolize Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo while the pair climbed to the summit of women’s tennis, conditioned to believe her dreams would remain confined to that of a distant admirer in North Africa.
She is here, and whether or not she touches the glistening heights of a Clijsters or a Mauresmo, Sherif has no intention of allowing other young women from the Arab world or Africa to conform to the same narrative.
The 27-year-old, who was born in Cairo, currently sits at a career-high ranking of 43 as she gears up for her return to Roland Garros, where she made history as the first Egyptian woman to reach the main draw of a Grand Slam at the 2020 French Open.
Mayar Sherif tells Sky Sports she wants to help other young girls from North Africa pursue their tennis dreams; Sherif: “I think women are more eager to succeed or they have more motivation to prove themselves because of the little suppression we have in North Africa or the Arab world”
She still remembers the words of those that gave her little-to-no chance.
She said, “Oh my gosh, so many said I wouldn’t make it, if I hadn’t found the coach I have now, who helped me financially and believed in me more than I believed in myself, I might not have made it, that gave me a huge push mentally to believe I could get to where I am now.”
Mayar added “I think women are more eager to succeed or they have more motivation to prove themselves because of the little suppression we have in North Africa or the Arab world with the women’s situation,” she explained. “We try to get out of that with more motivation, I think more women’s sports are succeeding much better than before.”
The feats are beginning to stack up for Sherif. At the 2019 African Games, she won gold to pave the way to her becoming the first Egyptian woman to qualify for the Olympics in tennis; in 2020 she made her historic French Open debut, prompting a social media shout-out from Liverpool star Mohammed Salah; in 2021 she became the first Egyptian woman to win a Grand Slam match by beating Chloe Paquet at the Australian Open, as well as becoming the first Egyptian woman to make it to a WTA Tour singles and doubles final – in Cluj-Napoca – and the first Egyptian woman to enter the WTA top 100.
She went on to make further history as the first Egyptian woman to win a main-draw match at the French Open in 2022, before defeating world No 7 Maria Sakkari in Parma to become the first woman from her country to win a WTA Tour title.
This month she toppled fifth seed Caroline Garcia and 24th seed Elise Mertens in Madrid on her way to the quarter-finals of a WTA 1000 event – another first for an Egyptian woman – in the process underlining her growing threat on clay.
Sherif was naturally introduced to the sport as a child by way of her parents’ love for tennis along with that of her older sister Rana Sherif Ahmed, who has previously represented the Egyptian Fed Cup team.
Knowing she wanted to make a career of it was one thing, carving out a route into the game was an entirely different challenge.
She has earned the right to prioritize fulfilling very real prospects of breaking into the world’s top 20 – something Sherif believes she can do with more consistency – but is equally tuned in to the flag-bearing role she has developed and the opportunity to assist the next generation.
Among her goals off the court is mapping out a clearer path for young children in Egypt and the Arab world to pursue careers in professional tennis.
Sherif’s immediate focus now turns to Roland Garros where she is seeking to produce her best return yet after being forced to withdraw from the second round last year due to injury.