Iran’s Meshkat al-Zahra Safi and Kenya’s Angella Okutoyi have both achieved historic milestones in the first grand slam of the year and have inspired the next generation of talent.
Okutoyi became the first Kenyan girl to win a junior grand slam on Sunday and shows no signs of slowing down.
After beating Australian Zara Larke in three sets on Tuesday, she is now the first Kenyan to reach the third round of a grand slam in a singles match.
“I’m happy to represent my country and everyone back home. It gives me motivation and I believe it gives Kenyan children the motivation to believe they can do it,” she said after her win.
Meanwhile, Safi made history on Sunday when she became the first Iranian – boy or girl – to win a junior grand slam match.
The 17-year-old defeated Australian Anja Nayar 6-4 6-3 in the Australian Open junior event in what was another highlight of her already impressive young career.
She also thanked the “dear Iranians for all their support and energy”.
Inspiring the next generation
She also became the first player from Iran to be ranked in the top 100 of the junior rankings and is excited to use her success to motivate more girls to take up the sport.
Safi lost in the next round to Belgian Sofia Costoulas — 6-0 6-2 — but is determined to inspire others.
“While this is not my ultimate goal, it gives me a great feeling to be a motivation for other Iranian youth players and to encourage them,” Safi told the ITF before the Australian Open started.
“In recent years, the Iranian players may have felt that it is difficult to achieve anything at an international level.
“I hope my improvements will encourage players and coaches to redouble their efforts.”
Safi has previously acknowledged the difficulties developing as a tennis player in Iran – where resources are scarce – but is determined to advance through the ranks.
In Iran, sports and politics have always been mixed and athletes are put under enormous pressure to abide by a set of rules.
‘I’ve had a really hard time’
“I had a really hard time playing tournaments, getting visas and not having sponsors very often.
“But if I had a message for other young people like me, I’d just say, ‘Don’t give up on your dreams.’ When I started, everyone in Iran said it was impossible and I couldn’t play grand slams, especially against my mother.
“That’s why I never told anyone about my dream, I just kept pushing. I want to tell people, ‘Keep pushing and believe in your dream.’ Achieving this success today is really big and I hope I can keep going.”