|Premises: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: May 28 – June 11|
|Reception: Live text and radio commentary on selected matches on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, on the BBC Sport website and app|
Mayar Sherif says people told her to her face that “it’s impossible to be a good tennis player from Egypt”.
The world number 55, who recently reached the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open, also revealed that her “obsession” with tennis – something that runs in her family – pushes her to prove the doubters wrong.
“I use this negative energy, it gives me motivation,” she told BBC Sport.
“I’ll prove you wrong, I’ll show you I can.”
The 27-year-old, who was born in Cairo, made history in 2020 when she became the first Egyptian to reach the first round of a Grand Slam, winning the first set of her debut match at the French Open before finally losing to number two seed Karolina Pliskova From czech.
Even her performance attracted the attention of Egypt and Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah, who praised her on Twitter.
Three years later, Sherif is preparing for another Roland Garros first round match, this time against American Madison Brengle.
“I love French (Open) since I was young,” she said.
“This is the tournament that just (first) caught my eye.”
Sherif’s career trajectory shows a slow but steady improvement.
in 2021 she became the first Egyptian to win a Grand Slam matchdefeating French Chloe Paquet at the Australian Open, and also entered the top 100 in the world for the first time.
A year later, she won her first match at the French Open before defeating Greece’s Maria Sakkari win the first WTA Tour title at the Emilia-Romagna Open in Italy – all impressive achievements for someone from humble beginnings in Africa.
“We didn’t have much to work with (growing up). We had no money, we had no financial support.
What she had was the devoted support of her tennis-crazed family.
“My parents just love tennis. They made us watch tennis since we were really young.
“My older sister started when she was five, and so did I, with her.
“But yes, my parents are obsessed.”
This older sister, Rana Sherif Ahmed, is also now a professional athlete, so it’s no surprise that her obsession was passed down to Sherif, who left home to train in Spain at the age of 15.
“It was very difficult then, of course I was a child. I didn’t know much,” she admitted.
“I was crazy and obsessed with being a professional tennis player.
“It helped me mature much faster than people my age. It shaped the way I trained, the way I worked and the way I wanted to be on the court.
“(There are) still things I learned coming to Spain as a 15-year-old. I still have it.”
But moving to Europe had its downsides as the teenage sheriff was only allowed to see her family a few times a year.
“It’s a huge sacrifice, but I decided to do it because of obsession. You want to be better and you want to win more matches.
“It was a chance to gain good practice, to work with professionals, because in Egypt it was very difficult to get.
“We don’t have a system. So we don’t have good fitness coaches, good tennis coaches, good physical therapists.”
The Egyptian went on to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in sports medicine.
“(At Pepperdine) is a very, very diverse community that has shaped my personality. She improved me, improved who I am as a tennis player, and I went on tour.
“It was a good experience for me to see student life because when you start the tour you are stuck there. You really can’t see other experiences in the world when we travel all the time.”
Jabeur’s career peaks and influence
Sherif recently reached a career high of 43, beating France’s Caroline Garcia and Belgium’s Elise Mertens, respectively 5th improvement on clay.
A positive performance on the same surface at the French Open, which starts on Sunday, could see him move even higher, perhaps into the world’s top 20.
Sherif hopes this will inspire more young Egyptians to play her sport, which she says is already happening.
“People perceive tennis in Egypt much better than before. This is a huge opportunity that we would have, with a little financial backing, for the next five to ten years.
“This could give a lot of different players a boost to at least be in the top 300.”
As for the other African players in Paris, Tunisia our jaber, seventh place will face Lucia Bronzetti from Italy.
Sherif is a longtime friend of the current world number seven, who previously reached No. 2 in the table – the highest ranking for an African and Arab player in women’s singles history.
“We respect each other,” she revealed.
“She is very helpful to me. I’ve known her since we were young, so we’re good friends.”
With her increasing results and friendships with Grand Slam finalists, it’s clear that Sherif’s obsession has taken her far.
Not bad for someone who was told her tennis dream was impossible.