Mayar Sherif became the first woman from Egypt to win a WTA Tour title on Saturday when she defeated top seed and world number seven Maria Sakkari in the Parma final.
Along with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals this year, Sherif is raising the profile of tennis in North Africa and the Arab world.
The 26-year-old triumphed over her Greek rival 7-5, 6-3, also achieving her first ever top 10 win.
“It means a lot for my country,” Sherif said.
“It means a lot for the people back home, my family, all the hard work, all the mental struggles in the last weeks. I’m just thrilled and happy. This was never expected.”
Sherif, ranked 74 in the world, carved out her place in history on a gruelling day which saw her playing a semi-final and final back-to-back after Friday’s schedule had been washed out by rain.
She finished the final with 10 winners to 11 unforced errors and generated 13 break points, converting six. Sakkari hit 22 winners to 22 unforced errors.
“I’m exhausted,” Sherif said after coming back from being an early break down in both sets of the claycourt final.
“Today was a very tough day for me, many hours on court. I’m very happy that I pulled it off. I had to dig very deep.”
“The first match was emotionally and mentally tough. There were so many key moments in the match, a lot of pressure. But after I won that match it gave me a lot of confidence so I used that for the match right after.”
Earlier on Saturday, Sherif, had required almost three hours to defeat sixth-seeded Ana Bogdan 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the semi-finals.
Sakkari eased through to her first final since Indian Wells with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Danka Konvinic of Montenegro.