It was a historic match for Mayar Sherif, Egypt’s first ever woman to feature in the main draw of a Grand Slam event, when she went up against 2017 semifinalist and former US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova in the first round of the French Open.
Pliskova was coming off a runner-up showing in Rome two weeks ago where she retired injured in the final against Simona Halep, and the 24-year-old Sherif made a good name in her Grand Slam debut albeit tasting defeat, forcing her more experienced Czech opponent to dig deep to grit out the win in three sets.
Sherif grits out close opening set in a tiebreak
The match began with the Pliskova serve, the Czech dishing out her first of five aces in the entire match en route to a hold of serve. Both women would remain on parity for most of the first set, as neither of the first nine games saw a single break point opportunity nor were any of them stretched to deuce.
The first tight game of the set came with the qualifier Sherif serving to stay in it at 4-5, as Pliskova raced away to two set points courtesy of a couple of unforced errors from her Egyptian opponent’s racket. Sherif, however, would deny the Czech the set in the end as she closed out her service game, saving another set point in the process, to level the score 5-5.
Sherif rode this momentum into the next game, scoring the first successful service break, converting her second of three break point chances to come within one game from taking the set. Pliskova, however, did not back down, as the Czech produced a winner to convert her second break point in the next game.
The tiebreak was an interesting affair between the pair as Pliskova looked clear to seal the set, carving up three set points at first. Two loose errors from the Czech’s racket, followed by a double fault, however, did not help her cause.
The tiebreak now at six points apiece, both players would go on to rack up a further five set points between them, three coming in Sherif’s favour, and the Egyptian woman’s third such opportunity would prove to be the decisive one as a loose error from her opponent’s racket saw her close out the first set after 59 minutes of play, 7-6(9).
Pliskova handily regroups to level the match
The second set started with both women trading breaks of serve. Pliskova would go then on go on a four-game winning streak, starting out with a service break of Sherif’s serve where the Czech hit three winners in a row.
After a service hold to love of her own, the second seed wasted no time, forcing back-to-back errors from the Egyptian to go up a double break, and followed up with another clean service game of her own which saw her produce two aces and two winners to lead 5-1.
The next game saw Sherif hold serve for the first time in the set, doing so to thirty. Pliskova would then serve out the set to love to send the match to a decider. The much more routine second set which went in favour of the Czech, took about half the time of the first set’s duration, at 29 minutes
Pliskova scores decisive break en route to win
Sherif started off the final set with a love hold. Pliskova would follow suit, firing two winners to level the set at one game apiece. The next game saw the qualifier having need to save a break point, before converting her third game point to go up 2-1.
The longest service game of the entire match outside the first-set tiebreak, lasting 11 minutes, came with Sherif serving at 3-3. A double fault at 30-30 gave Pliskova a break point opportunity, but an unforced error undid the Czech’s quest to break serve.
A further seven deuces followed in that game, which also saw Pliskova come up with five more break chances, two of those going away with unforced errors from the Czech. It would be fifth time lucky for her in the end as she slammed the game shut after forcing an error from her opponent to lead 4-3. The Czech wasted no time as she consolidated the service break in the next game, and then closed out the match successfully two games later with her fifth ace.
Pliskova’s big-hitting game proved to be a key throughout the contest which lasted two hours and 14 minutes, firing 45 winners, a little more than double her opponent’s, to 46 unforced errors. Sherif managed a greater percentage of first serves, 86 to Pliskova’s 68.
However, the Czech fared better in winning points on the first delivery, 78% to her opponent’s mere 60%. Although the Egyptian woman was solid in winning points at the net, losing just three out of 12 such points, she only managed to break her Czech opponent twice, in contrast to the latter’s five breaks of serve.
The win sees Pliskova move on to face Jelena Ostapenko in the next round, in what promises to be a big-hitting encounter. It will be the sixth meeting overall between them, also the sixth on a hardcourt, and their first at the Grand Slam level since the 2017 Australian Open where the Czech saw off the Latvian 4-6, 6-0, 10-8.