Mayar Sherif says becoming highest-ranked Egyptian in tennis history is ‘no coincidence’

Mayar Sherif. (BBVA Open Internacional de Valencia)
Mayar Sherif. (BBVA Open Internacional de Valencia)
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Updated 20 June 2023

Mayar Sherif says becoming highest-ranked Egyptian in tennis history is ‘no coincidence’

Mayar Sherif. (BBVA Open Internacional de Valencia)
  • New world No.31 is proud of passing compatriot Ismail El-Shafei’s career-high mark

In a recent conversation with her psychologist, Egyptian tennis star Mayar Sherif was asked what was driving her the most.

“She was asking me, ‘What is your motivation right now? Because motivation can move mountains’,” recalled Sherif in an interview with Arab News on Monday.

“I told her, ‘I’m dying to pass Ismail’s career-high mark of 34,’ so that was definitely a goal I had in my mind.”

Sherif was referring to Ismail El-Shafei, who, until Sunday, was the highest-ranked Egyptian in Open era history, having peaked at No.34 in the world back in 1975.

On Monday, Sherif officially surpassed him as she hit a new career-high ranking of 31 to become the highest-ranked Egyptian tennis player among both men and women in the professional era.

“It didn’t come just like that, by coincidence. It feels good to break another barrier; it gives me a lot of confidence mentally and it’s important to go into the grass season feeling this confident,” said the 27-year-old Cairene.

Sherif’s latest historic achievement has come on the heels of capturing two WTA 125k titles in as many weeks, in Makarska, Croatia, and Valencia, Spain, and she now enters the grass season with a 10-match winning streak.

The Spain-based player is an impressive 6-0 in WTA 125k finals, and has won 41 of 47 matches at that level.

While many other players have already begun their grass-court campaigns, Sherif was keen to get some more match play on clay — her preferred surface — and the decision has paid off as she now stands on the brink of the top 30.

“We tried to extend the clay season as much as possible, because the clay season on the WTA tour is very short,” Sherif said.  

“It’s obvious I play better on clay than on any other surface. Sadly the tournaments that were available were only 125s, and I’m planning to play the 250s after Wimbledon on clay. It was an objective to make the clay season as long as possible because there aren’t enough tournaments.”

Her week in Croatia felt like “vacation vibes” as she enjoyed playing at a tennis club that was right on the beach. Sherif and her team were the first to arrive at the tournament, and the last to leave — trophy in tow — and she said that gave her a mental boost entering the second week in Valencia, where she demolished the field, clinching the title without dropping a set, and losing a total of just 17 games through five matches.

Sherif will now shift her focus to the grass and she has a week to prepare for the WTA 250 event in Bad Homburg, Germany, before heading to Wimbledon, where she will make her main draw debut and will likely be seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time, thanks to her new ranking.

She admits her initial target was to be seeded by the time the US Open came around end of August and she is thrilled to be ahead of schedule.

Sherif’s entire professional experience on grass is limited to just two Wimbledon qualifying matches, played at Roehampton two years ago. She had to miss the Championships last year due to a foot injury and is excited to be heading to the All England Club for the first time as a pro.

While she is aware of the challenges she will face competing on a surface she is not well-acquainted with, she hopes to approach the grass swing with a fresh winning mentality.

“The last time I played on grass was two years ago and I enjoyed it. I didn’t expect to enjoy it, and I went with the mentality of, ‘Let’s see how I’m going to feel.’ But I feel like had I gone to Wimbledon qualifying two years ago with a winning mentality of, ‘I can do this’, I probably would have qualified,” she said.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t. So this time I’m going to go with this winning mentality because I actually enjoyed it the last time.”

Sherif has been plotting with her coach Justo Gonzalez a plan of attack for the grass, and noted several adjustments need to be made in order to be physically and tactically ready to compete at Wimbledon. She is also on the verge of making a bold move by changing the model of Wilson racket she has been using.

“The physical transitioning is not easy. On grass you have to stay low, the agility is super difficult; the first few days it’s tough on the legs and on the back,” said the Pepperdine University alum.  

“I’m working with my fitness coach to make this transition physically smooth and I plan on playing the 250 event in Bad Homburg so I can prepare well for Wimbledon.”

She added: “We might change the racket. You’re the first to know this actually. We’ve been planning on this for a while, let’s see how it goes. It can go disastrously, or it can go very well, but we’ll take the risk and we’ll see.

“We’re changing the racket and also in my game play, we’re going to work on the serve; we’re going to add more slices, the volleys are important. Of course, on grass, if you have good touch, it’s important, so that’s what we’re going to work on this week.

“We think that I have a good touch, but I don’t use it enough, so maybe on the grass is a good time to use it.”

The last time Sherif set foot in the All England Club was back in 2012. She was 16, competing in the juniors draw, and won her first round in girls’ singles before losing in the second round.

“I’m very excited for Wimbledon, of course. I’ve been dying to set foot in that club. I’ve only been there as a junior, and I don’t remember much, and I’ve never been there as a pro, so I’m very excited for it. I’m looking forward to enjoying the experience more than anything,” she said.