Women's qualifying Day 2: Sherif, Bouchard begin brightly

  • Matt Trollope

Rising Egyptian star Mayar Sherif began her AO 2021 qualifying campaign on a strong note with a thumping first-round win on Monday in Dubai. 

The No.16 seed routed Japan’s Akiko Omae 6-0 6-1 in just 50 minutes to set up a meeting with American Grace Min.

Min brushed aside Brit Harriet Dart 7-5 6-2, while also winning through to the second round was No.1 seed Kaja Juvan, Croatia’s Jana Fett, and former top-five star Eugenie Bouchard.

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Bouchard, the 25th seed, beat Australian wildcard Abbie Myers 6-2 6-3 and has now won 12 of her past 17 matches since professional tennis resumed in August.

While Bouchard burst to prominence back in 2014 with a string of excellent performances at the Slams, Sherif only began truly gaining attention last year when she qualified for the French Open, becoming the first Egyptian women to ever play in the main draw at a Grand Slam event. 

"I was just so motivated to change my ranking, because I had to sit there with a bad ranking for months and months and months."
Eugenie Bouchard

There she pushed second seed Karolina Pliskova to three sets on Court Philippe Chatrier, and later in the year won the ITF 100K title in Charleston. 

She finished the season at world No.128 – having won 26 of her 36 matches in 2020 – after being ranked 500th midway through 2019. 

And she has carried her impressive form into 2021.

"I think the thing that worked most for me today was to keep my nerves, to hold on my attitude, and from then on my game just flowed,” Sherif said after completely overwhelming Omae with her power, spin and intensity.

"I'm very confident about my game, about myself. And I think I just go to the court, do my best, and that gives me even more confidence.

“I'm very happy to be able to compete, very excited. And very excited for this year, just to hopefully try to get up the ranking, but the most important goal is to improve, and improve my level, get (a) higher level.”

With her rise up the rankings and following her Roland Garros result, Sherif’s profile has grown in her home country, with the 24-year-old signing deals with Vodafone, Allianz and Peugeot, among others, late in 2020.

"It's highly important, because it makes me go to the court not thinking about any financial issues,” she explained. “Just to know that these sponsors are behind my back, and always going support me, it gives me a lot of mental comfort.

"It’s been very nice. It gives me more confidence that people are knowing who I am, how I play.” 

Bouchard continues fine form

Bouchard played with controlled aggression in beating Myers, especially effective in forcing errors with strong returning.

The Canadian will face China’s Yuan Yue in the second round of qualifying as she continues her quest to appear in the AO main draw for a seventh time.

Since August she has shaved almost 200 places off her ranking, and currently stands at No.141.

She attributed her rapid rise to the work she put in during tennis’ five-month suspension, which she spent in her new Las Vegas base under the eye of Gil Reyes, former strength coach to Andre Agassi.

Eugenie Bouchard Australian Open 2021 qualifying
Eugenie Bouchard in action during her AO 2021 first-round qualifying win over Abbie Myers. (credit: Jorge Ferrari for Tennis Australia)

“I just wanted to feel physically so strong that I didn't want the physical aspect to be a hindrance or an excuse ever in any match,” said Bouchard of her October 2019 relocation to Las Vegas, where she also spends time on court with Agassi and Steffi Graf.

“I have confidence, I know I can stay out there for three hours, I can outlast anyone in three sets. So it just kind of removes that from the equation.

"I spent the whole quarantine training. And it was really tough not to be able to have tournaments. I kind of felt like an animal let out of a cage when we were finally able to play tournaments. So I was super motivated and I felt very strong and very prepared. 

“It was a blessing in disguise, maybe, to have the down time and I think I just worked on so many things physically, with my game, mentally as well. 

“And I was just so motivated to change my ranking, because I had to sit there with a bad ranking for months and months and months. I used it as motivation.”

Also progressing to the second round of qualifying were third seed Greet Minnen, former top-25 players Lesia Tsurenko and Mihaela Buzarnescu, and 12th seed Catherine McNally.