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Center court crowd savor Arab stars Ons Jabeur and Mayar Sherif at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

It was a special day to be an Arab sports fan on Tuesday as Egypt’s Mayar Sherif and Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur played back-to-back matches on center court at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, showcasing gender courage and fighting spirit. to expect from the two pioneering women on the WTA Tour.

While the pair had mixed results, with Sherif falling to former world number three Elina Svitolina in straight sets before eighth-seeded Jabeur beat Vera Zvonareva in three, the significance of the occasion didn’t matter. was not lost on the vibrant Arab crowd in attendance, who witnessed a rare double-header featuring two talented women from the region competing on UAE soil.

“Mayar is a great player. I met her and her team. It’s so nice to see her here. I hope she gets better,” said Jabeur, who last year became the first Arab tennis player in history to be ranked in the top 10 in the world.

“I know it’s not easy to start these tournaments. I was here. I played these tournaments; it was very difficult to win the first laps. I’m 100% sure she’ll get there.

Jabeur, 27, helped pave the way for players like Sherif, who is following in the footsteps of the Tunisian and breaking new ground for Egyptian women in sport.

World No. 65 Sherif is the first Egyptian woman to break into the top 100 and made her Dubai debut this week on a wildcard.

The 25-year-old from Cairo has seen Jabeur make history time and time again and is delighted to share a dressing room with the affable Tunisian.

“Of course, Ons is a dear friend; I’ve known her since I was 14. She knows my family well, I know her well. She’s a lovely personality, so whenever I want to ask her about anything, she gives me advice or offers me whatever I’m looking for,” Sherif told Arab media on Tuesday.

“Even when I told her I would like to play doubles with her once, she immediately agreed and said she was looking forward to it.

“It’s a very nice feeling to have that kind of support from someone else on tour, especially an Arab player. It also gives you a lot of hope, so it’s a great feeling that Ons is there all the time.

Jabeur was playing his first match in over a month, after missing the Australian Open with a back injury. The world No.10 felt rusty in her two-hour 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 win over Zvonareva on Tuesday, and admits staying healthy is her top priority ahead of her second-round clash with American Jessica Pegula on Wednesday. .

For Sherif, facing two-time Dubai champion Svitolina was a difficult initiation, but the Egyptian is ready to face such challenges in order to take the next steps in her career.

“I came here knowing that every player in the draw is a very tough player, from the top seed all the way through to the qualifying rounds. So drawing Svitolina in the first round didn’t come as a shock to me – I knew I was going to face someone really good,” Sherif said.

The stands of the center court were full of Egyptian and Tunisian flags on Tuesday, with many young children walking straight from school to the stadium to catch a glimpse of Sherif or Jabeur.

“It’s heartwarming to see young Egyptians coming to tell me they did a school project on me, or someone sending me a portrait they did of me as a gift. These things really move me because you know people are following you and seeing you as an image that they are looking for,” Sherif said.

“They see me as a role model. Sure, it’s a bit of a strain on my shoulders, but it also gives me a lot of motivation to do better and better so people can follow in my footsteps. Seeing children asking me for photos and telling me that they are proud of me, I carry all of this in my heart.

Unlike Jabeur, who turned professional as a teenager as soon as she finished her junior career, Sherif followed the college tennis route, attending Pepperdine University, USA, where she reached the semi-finals. of the NCAA championship.

Several former college players have made waves on the professional circuit, most recently UVA graduate Danielle Collins, who reached the Australian Open final last month.

This is yet another encouraging sign for Sherif, who is thrilled to see her decision to delay her professional career as she developed her game and character during her years of college tennis paying off.

“You hear a lot of people say that going to college would kill your game, going to college would kill your chances of being professional. But now seeing that happen more often than before, now players see us playing college, and that’s the vision is that when they finish college, that’s what they want to do,” Sherif said.

“Especially the players who were playing while I was there, I see them trying. I think they see us there and they’re like ‘if they can do it, why can’t we too?’

“I think it gives players a lot of motivation to compete at a high level in college. I’m so proud to be part of it, to be honest.

Jabeur’s trip to Dubai continues as Sherif focuses on next week’s Qatar Open in Doha, where once again the two North African women will have the opportunity to inspire an entire Arab populace.


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