Last September, the rising tennis star had the entire nation spellbound as she clawed her way into the main draw at the French Open, surprising audiences all around the world and making her the first female Egyptian to do so. Promising her fans that “the best is yet to come,” the 24-year-old player is determined to reach the top, with her sights set next on the Tokyo Olympics where she’ll be competing next year.
And a few days ago, Sherif made another historic achievement, winning the Charleston US Open championship.
In between her busy schedule, Sherif made time to chat with Egypt Today about her inspirations and aspirations, the attention needed to support individual sports and her unforgettable experience at Roland Garros.
How did you manage to balance between education and tennis?
It was very tough to manage between education and tennis, and I was never able to give 100 percent to education and 100 percent to tennis. My priority was always for tennis, so I had to be very organized, I had to organize my time very, very well to be able to do the best I could in both of them.
What are your personal and professional dreams?
My professional dream is to win a grand slam. A personal dream is just to be successful in my life and to do something that people would recognize me for.
You have a special relationship with Mohamed Salah. Tell us more about that.
(Laughs). It’s not really a special relationship at the moment but it’s very nice to know that he’s always there, he’s always supporting. It’s just very nice to know that he’s following the people who are successful, the people that are doing something good. It’s good to see that successful Egyptians are following other [rising talents].
In Egypt the main focus is on football as it is the most popular sport. Which sports need more attention? How can we support athletes in individual sports to become successful like yourself?
Tennis needs to get more [support], and all women’s sports, which don’t really get that much attention in Egypt. Women obviously don’t get paid the same so they do need more attention with sponsors, from audiences. Everybody needs to participate to change this, not just the [athletes].
Who’s your role model?
[Laughs]. I don’t really think have one. I’m my own role model; but I always take my sister [Rana Sherif, who in 2010 ranked world number 982 in the doubles rankings] as a tennis player—how she’s always fighting against many things in life in general. Otherwise just myself.
Who has influenced your career? Who would you say you owe your success to?
Obviously my mum and my coach. Without those two I wouldn’t be able to be where I am now, that’s for sure.
You’re the first Egyptian female player to reach the main draw at Roland Garros. What were the unforgettable moments for you at the grand slam?
It’s been a good experience, I enjoyed every moment of it, every match. I was glowing at every match as a tennis player. My confidence growing match by match, and it showed at the last match I played there. I was so close and it was one of the best I’d played, going up against one of the best tennis players in the world. So yeah, I enjoyed every moment of it and hopefully I’ll go back next year and do better.
Following your impressive turn at the French Open, Al Ahly’s board of directors unanimously agreed to give you a new deal with the club. Tell us about that.
I’m not really allowed to talk about deals or anything in detail, but I’m committed to Al Ahly. That’s all I can say about that. If I’m going to play for any club this year, it’s Al Ahly.
You grew up in Cairo watching Roland Garros each year, what is the most vivid memory you have of the tournament?
Federer winning Roland Garros.
You are a Pepperdine University graduate. What was your specialization and why did you choose it?
I specialized in sports medicine. I love science and I wanted to know the science behind everything that I’m doing to understand my body better, and to understand how the body works with an athlete.
In 2019 you started the season unranked. Today you are the highest-ranking Egyptian female tennis player in history. How did you manage to make this huge achievement in only 10 months ?
Honestly, I have no idea. Everything happened so fast, and I didn’t expect any of this to happen. But without the belief of my coach, without how my coach pushed me, I could not have come this far. With his belief, he made me believe in myself so much that [I was able to make it happen].
We know you have a strong bond with your coach and your manager. Why is that important to be successful?
Obviously my coach has been a very big part of my success. He has helped me [immensely] and I could never ever pay him back. We have a very, very special connection that I can never find with anyone else. My manager too is taking care of everything else off the court, all the media, all the contracts, all the sponsorship deals that [come my way], so that I can compete with a clear mind. This is a big load as well, otherwise my mind would not be 100 percent on tennis.
How important is sponsorship?
It’s huge, because tennis is a sport on which you have to spend a lot, and just to know that someone is supporting you and is always going to be there to help you out, that is a very important [aspect] for a tennis player.
What’s the message you want to send to your Egyptian fans?
I want them to know that I will keep working on myself day by day, I will keep improving. I’m not satisfied and the best is yet to come.