Mayar Sherif continues to break barriers for Egypt
Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian woman to qualify for the main draw of a Slam last fall at Roland Garros, where she narrowly lost to Karolina Pliskova 6-7(9), 6-2, 6-4. One Slam later, the 24-year-old has made history again. On Tuesday, Sherif defeated France's Chloe Paquet 7-5, 7-5 in the first round of the Australian Open to become the first Egyptian woman to win a main draw match at a Slam.
"Obviously it means a lot because finally, this is a barrier that I had to pass, a mental barrier," Sherif told reporters. "With the conditions that are here it was very, very tough to adapt to it, especially to adapt my game to it. It took us a while.
"Courts are faster, the heat, everything happens so fast, very tough to control the ball. Very, very happy with my accomplishment and I'm going for more."
Far more comfortable on the heavy, slow clay in Paris, Sherif's ability to adjust her game to the Australian Open's quick courts spoke volumes about her ability to problem solve and battle.
"For me adapting my game was difficult because these are the fastest courts I've ever played on," Sherif said. "But it means a lot to me because these are the fastest courts and I still managed to compete and to still win. I'm playing at the highest level here, so that means a lot to me.
"Even though this is not the favorite surface, this is not my comfortable place to be, but I still competed, I still managed to adapt my game and I still won. So that means a lot for the future. I still need, obviously, a lot of experience, a lot of matches like this, because I need to be around those kind of tournaments, those kind of players, a lot of time to be able to go into the higher rounds and so on."
Currently ranked No.131, Sherif is primed to continue to raise the bar for Egyptian tennis. She says the support at home is the opposite of a burden, buoying her to new heights as she hopes to inspire the next generation of young Egyptians to pick up a racquet.
"People, a lot of times, they stop me, they want a picture, they just say good luck for the next," Sherif said, when asked if she is recognized back in Cairo.
"It's such a great feeling, especially when kids come and they recognize me, especially tennis players. For me, that means a lot because that's the next generation and I want them to believe in themselves and to see me and look at me and say that we can be like her.
"When someone tells me, 'Oh, I wish one day to be like you,' I go, 'No, you have to be better, you have to achieve for something more, you have to go for more.'"
Sherif plays Kaja Juvan in the second round.
Top seeds, title favorites, looking sharp
Between the first tournaments of the season in Abu Dhabi and Melbourne, and the first round of the Australian Open, the top players and title favorites have looked spectacular. In the cases of Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka, and Serena Williams, it seemed as if they were on a mission to outdo each other.
Reigning US Open champion Osaka opened play on Rod Laver Arena by quieting concerns over her gauntlet of a draw by losing three games to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Serena quickly followed with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Laura Siegemund. Then came World No.1 Barty following up her title run at the Yarra Valley Classic with a 6-0, 6-0 win in the first round over Danka Kovinic.
In all, 10 seeded players lost four or fewer games in their opening wins: Barty, Halep, Osaka, Pliskova, Sabalenka, Serena, Muguruza, Swiatek, Mertens, and Brady.
Muguruza: "Tennis players never relax, no matter which round, which tournament. I feel like now I approach different. I accept the fact that it can go wrong. I'm more open to adaptation, to uncertainty.”— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 9, 2021
"I feel it's an issue of maturity.”#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/ftEm2QqQW5
Notable Second Round Matches
Top Half: Belinda Bencic vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Karolina Pliskova vs. Danielle Collins, Sofia Kenin vs. Kaia Kanepi, Donna Vekic vs. Nadia Podoroska, Elina Svitolina vs. Coco Gauff
Bottom Half: Bianca Andreescu vs. Hsieh Su-Wei, Venus Williams vs. Sara Errani, Naomi Osaka vs. Caroline Garcia, Iga Swiatek vs. Camila Giorgi, Elena Rybakina vs. Fiona Ferro
Serbia's Olga Danilovic qualified for her first Slam main draw and made good on her spot. The 19-year-old defeated No.16 seed Petra Martic 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 in the first round and will face Shelby Rogers. Danilovic's compatriot, 24-year-old Nina Stojanovic, also earned her first Australian Open main draw win. The No.99 defeated Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-4 and will face Serena in the second round.
It's easy to forget that Argentina's Nadia Podoroska was playing in just her second Slam main draw when she made the semifinals at Roland Garros last fall. Making her Australian Open main draw debut, the 23-year-old got her first win, defeating Christina McHale 6-4, 6-4.
Jessica Pegula earned her first Australian Open main draw win in style, defeating two-time champion and No.12 seed Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-4.
Stand Out Stats
24: Number of seeds that advanced to the second round. The seeds posted a 24-8 record in the opening round, with the Top 11 advancing.
44: Minutes it took World No.1 Ashleigh Barty to win her opening match over Danka Kovinic, 6-0, 6-0. This was the quickest match of the first two days.
3: Number of teenagers into the second round: Coco Gauff, Anastasia Potapova, and Iga Swiatek.
13: Number of players aged 30 or older into the second round.
11: American women into the second round, the most of any nation. The Americans went 11-5 in Round 1.
2: Number of wildcards into the second round: Samantha Stosur and Daria Gavrilova.
7: Qualifiers (6) and lucky losers (1) into the second round, the most since 2016. With two qualifiers facing off in the second round - Mayar Sherif vs. Kaja Juvan - there is guaranteed to be at least one qualifier in the third round. There were no qualifiers in the third round in 2019 and 2020.
Q. Everyone talks about your age, but is that front of mind for you when you're on the court?— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 8, 2021
VENUS WILLIAMS: Would it be front of mind for you if you were playing a professional tennis match?
Q. Not necessarily.
VENUS WILLIAMS: There you go.#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/fsldAsDpMq
Ashleigh Barty's not one to keep an eye on her competition unless they're standing across the net.
"Sometimes [I'll put a match on in] the background but typically not a lot. Nothing that I can do from the couch that's going to change how they play.
"I have zero control how they hit the tennis ball. Yeah, you can watch a little bit, but that's not really my thing."
Coco Gauff has spent some of her downtime playing miniature golf with her team. She keeps finishing dead last.
"Apparently I play mini golf like tennis. I hit the ball too hard. I think that I'm going to keep doing that because that's just how I like to play, and even though it's not working, one of these days it's going to work and I'm just going to be like, I told you, power is the right way."
Swiatek: "I was singing in my head to keep my mind busy, focusing on little things. I say that basically on every interview. Sometimes it's easier to do that, sometimes not.”— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 8, 2021
Q. What are you singing?
SWIATEK: Today 'It Takes Two', Marvin Gaye. So not rock for the first time.
Serena Williams improved to 76-1 in the first round of Grand Slams, but was asked to reflect on that sole loss, which came to Virginie Razzano at the 2012 French Open.
"That was one of the worst days of my career. But it also brought the best days of my career afterwards. It was kind of necessary that that happened. It was one of those necessary evils.
"I don't think I would be who I am if I hadn't had that loss. It just completely changed the whole course of my career. I'm happy to take another first-round loss if it happens like that again."
🇦🇺 Aussie coach— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 8, 2021
🇦🇺 Aussie 1R singles opponent
🇦🇺 Aussie 2R singles opponent
🇦🇺 Aussie doubles partner
🇦🇺 Aussie 1R doubles opponents
You sure you're not Aussie @Simona_Halep? 😉#AusOpen | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/vw6GNp50WC
Naomi Osaka on her relationship with Venus Williams:
"Ironically I actually interact with Venus more. For me, I feel like I do talk about Serena a lot, but Venus is sort of the reason why Serena is where she is. Of course, I always love to pay homage to her.
"But I'm being the little sister, so I kind of talk about Serena all the time because she's also the little sister.
"I feel like whenever I see her, it's really amazing just to watch how much she loves tennis. I see her smiling so much nowadays, so it's really nice to see. She just has this aura of loving the sport and this infectious energy.
"I hope that I can learn a lot from her."