Mayar Sherif is no stranger to breaking barriers but as she embarks on her historic Olympic tennis campaign, she admits her bid for a medal is “a huge thing for Egypt”.
The 25-year-old, who is currently a career-high 114 in the world rankings, will – in Tokyo – become the first Egyptian woman to play Olympic tennis.
“I will be very nervous just being there, having the name of my country on my shirt, and I will play so much with my heart,” Sherif told BBC Sport Africa.
“Obviously, it’s one of the biggest goals this year, one of the highlights of the season. If I can get a medal, then that would be an incredible achievement.
“This is a huge thing for Egypt. I will give the best image of myself on court, and I can’t wait because when I play with this version of me, I do best. I enjoy myself on the court.”
Sherif, who has enjoyed great support from Egyptians, including football star Mo Salah, says this simply fuels her motivation to succeed in Japan.
“I feel it so much – I’m very lucky to have them on my side,” she enthused. “I will be the best I can be for everybody in Egypt, for the support I’m getting.”
Quick on the draw
Since sealing her historic qualification for Tokyo in 2019, Sherif has enjoyed a breakthrough period in her career.
At this year’s Australian Open, she became the first Egyptian woman to win a Grand Slam main draw match, having already become the first Egyptian woman to qualify for a Grand Slam main draw at the 2020 French Open.
“Obviously it was one of the most important things that happened to me,” she smiled. “Just passing this barrier is very important because some players, even when they get to the top 100, have never gone past the qualifiers before.”
Amongst her supporters during those Grand Slam campaigns was Liverpool’s Egyptian superstar Salah.
“That was unbelievable – he’s such a great person, very humble – we talk here and there. I usually start the talk to try to get some of his experience, so he’s amazing and it’s very nice to just know I have a friend like this on my side.”
Sherif also counts Tunisia’s own trailblazer Ons Jabeur – a fellow north African she can turn to for support – as an inspiring figure.
“Obviously we know each other from a really young age,” she said. “She knows all my family, my parents love her, even my sister – who’s closer to her than I am!
“We always say ‘hi’ to each other, we always joke around. She’s an amazing person, so funny and always joking around with everybody. Every time she sees me, she always trying to support me.”
Both Jabeur and Sherif have had to rely on financial support from their sponsors, and encouragement from their families and federations to climb up the ranks, while becoming role models for budding tennis hopefuls in their countries.
“It’s been a dream for me for the young girls to come up to me and ask to be like me,” the Egyptian said.
“But honestly, they have to look for more than this – not to be like me, to be better than me – and hopefully it opens doors for the young generation.
“I’m 100% Egyptian, I grew up in Egypt. I competed in national tournaments just like anybody who’s playing. We have so much talent going to waste because there is not enough support.
“But now that sponsors are starting to know about tennis, hopefully many young generations will be better and better – and make it to the top.”
Sherif’s journey started long ago and she’ll be hoping that she can continue to rise as both the Olympics and more grand slams swing into view.