Egyptian trailblazer Sherif energised by support from football star Salah
Mayar Sherif, the first Egyptian woman to play in Grand Slam main draw, said the support received back home including from Liverpool star Mo Salah had given her extra incentive to help break down barriers for aspiring tennis players in the football-mad country.
World number 172 Sherif took the first set off second seed Karolina Pliskova in Tuesday's Roland Garros first round but could not sustain her challenge in a 6-7 (9/11), 6-2, 6-4 loss.
Sherif came through qualifying in Paris to join Tunisia's Ons Jabeur in the 128-player field, the first time two Arab woman have contested the main draw of a major since 2002.
Despite an early exit Sherif, who began 2019 unranked after graduating from Pepperdine University in the US, insisted she had a "huge margin to improve".
"I saw what the level is and I saw not playing my best how close I was to beat one of the best players in the world," she said, grateful to also have the backing of a national icon.
"For Mo Salah, he's one of the best football players in the world, and to see someone very successful supporting other successful people in his country, it just gives you some energy just to know that there are good people out there and people who are already successful are willing to support you."
Sherif said she hadn't personally been in touch with Salah but would welcome his advice as an Egyptian who has established himself on the global stage.
"The thing I would ask him is how did he break the barrier of believing or being the first of doing something so big from Egypt as a person that comes from Egypt?" she said.
"How did he go through that? And how were the stages to get to the point to where he is now?"
The 24-year-old also offered some words encouragement of her own for Egyptian youngsters trying to carve out a future in tennis.
"I would tell them that they can do it with hard work, with talent, because we have so many talented players in Egypt," she said.
"They just have to believe in themselves, and they have to follow the way, the right way to get to where they want.
"There are many obstacles in Egypt that can stop a tennis player from, especially a female tennis player, from playing. They have to always believe, they have to always fight through this to get to where they want."