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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - PARMA: Moments after she made history by becoming Egypt’s first-ever WTA title winner with a heroic effort at the Parma Ladies Open, Mayar Sherif could not hide her disbelief as she tried to articulate how she felt about her latest achievement.
The 26-year-old from Cairo had to contest both the semi-finals and final on the same day after rain had washed out play on Friday.
Sherif ended up battling through four hours and 26 minutes on court on Saturday to overcome Romanian Ana Bogdan in the semis and Greek world No.7 Maria Sakkari in the final as she went on to secure a maiden WTA-level trophy.
The victory was Sherif’s first against a top-50 opponent – she was 0-10 against top-50 players coming into the final – and it required an incredible amount of grit, as the Egyptian fought back from a break down on three occasions in the first set, and once in the second, en route to a 7-5, 6-3 success over former world No.3 Sakkari.
“I’m so tired, I can’t, I really can’t,” Sherif told Arab News with a chuckle after pulling off that historic triumph.
“I lost a (WTA) 250 final last year, so I stepped on court this time thinking, ‘I don’t want to lose again’; I really don’t like to lose finals. So I had this mentality of, ‘I really want to win this, I’ll do what I can and stretch my limits, I have nothing to lose’; and I was loose.
“I knew I was tired and that I had to go for it. Thank God really, it happened and we really cannot believe it.”
While Sherif had lost her sole previous WTA final in Cluj-Napoca last season, the Cairene is a big match player and has won all four finals she has reached at the $100k or 125-series level, which are just under the main tour level.
“I really hate losing finals and last year I lost two finals back-to-back, and I told Justo (my coach), ‘My next final, no matter what, I’m going to win this final’,” she confessed.
“Because that says a lot about what kind of a champion you are, and it says a lot about your character. So I hate losing finals, I have to go for it. Today I was so tired and I really cannot believe I pulled it off.”
Sherif’s brutal three-set win over Bogdan earlier in the day gave her the confidence to step things up against Sakkari, who had conceded just three games to the Egyptian in their previous clash in Doha last year.
“The last time I played Sakkari, she beat me soundly in two sets, so I stepped on court today, thinking I’m going after her. I knew she was struggling and I know she doesn’t play well in finals, so I went after her,” said Sherif.
Sherif, who will return to the top 50 and move up from 74 to No.48 in the world rankings on Monday, had been struggling since coming back from a foot injury she had picked up at Roland Garros in May and sidelined her for more than two months.
The Pepperdine graduate lost six of her nine matches upon her return to the tour in August and had zero expectations arriving in Parma last week.
“I’ve had a cold since the start of the tournament and my nose has been blocked since the first match,” Sherif revealed.
“I really came to Parma thinking I just want to pass the first round, I just wanted to win one match. But somehow things kept happening one match at a time. It was beyond any expectations, I came here from rock bottom. I had been losing and losing, I was searching for my match rhythm and this came out of nowhere.”
Sherif is no stranger to making history as she continues to write new chapters for Egyptian women’s tennis in the record books. She is the first WTA player from her country to crack the top 50, the first to win a match at a Grand Slam, and now the first to win a title on tour.
“I’m so happy that I broke many barriers today; I got my first top-10 win, I won a WTA 250 title, all this for me is huge,” she said.
“I struggled mentally, lately, so much, so much. My foot didn’t feel the same, physically I couldn’t get back in shape the way I was. I was trying in practice to really push myself every day. After all this effort, even though I wasn’t playing well or I was losing, it finally paid off.
“This gives me unreal motivation to keep going, to work on myself and improve my level. I still have huge margins, I’m not playing my best at all. So this gives me the motivation to improve and to physically get back to where I was, I’m really happy.”
Sherif’s ascent over the last couple of seasons has coincided with the meteoric rise of Tunisian world No.2 Ons Jabeur, whose string of unprecedented feats by an Arab tennis player have defied all odds.
Jabeur, who is the highest ranked African woman and highest ranked Arab-born player in history, has made it to back-to-back Grand Slam finals this season, at Wimbledon and the US Open, and has become a force to be reckoned with on tour.
“I’m not shocked at all by what Ons is doing,” said Sherif of Jabeur.
“She is a great champion and she broke so many barriers and I have no doubt she is mentally stronger than so many players inside the top 10 and the top 50.
“Here in Africa, we have this talent, which I feel not many other people possess. Being at this high level, Ons is ahead of so many people mentally, God bless her.
“I’m not surprised at all by what she’s doing. What she does really pushes me forward. I see her playing a Grand Slam final and I think, ‘It’s time for me to push myself even harder’.
“I win a 250 tournament and I’m already thinking of what’s coming next. She gives me this inner push; I have the motivation to follow her.”
Sherif will head to Cairo on Sunday for a three-week training block before getting back on court for the closing stages of the 2022 season.
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