Dina Meshref has been unbeaten in Africa for the last four years; she has made seven appearances in the Women’s World Cup and appears on the invitation list for this year’s event. It is more than other player from the continent.
Always supported by her family but the 26-year-old Egyptian’s journey started with a different sport.
Tennis was the first option but very soon, attention turned to table tennis.
“I used to play tennis at the El Ahly club when I was six; then after a year, I visited the table tennis hall at the club with my father, who was at that time the manager of the table tennis team at El Ahly Club. Everyone treated me so well there and coaches started to ask me to try playing. I enjoyed the atmosphere more than I did at the tennis court, so I decided to continue playing table tennis and stop tennis. Despite the fact that all of my family members were table tennis players, they didn’t want to push me to play the same sport. When I visited the table tennis hall with my father, coach Mosaad Rohayem was the first one to ask me to play table tennis and he was the first one to teach me table tennis,” said Dina.
Apart from the passion she developed for the sport, Dina was fascinated with the convenience of the sport.
“Being played indoors made it more convenient without being exposed to the sun and different weather conditions. Also, I saw it as a fun game to play and watch,” she added.
From starting with El Ahly in Egypt, Dina has taken her trade to Turkey, Sweden, Greece and Germany where she presently plays for Langstadt.
She attributed her consistency in the sport to exposure to top class competition.
“Playing lots of high level matches there, I believe the German League helps me gain more experience. Being put in several difficult situations as well as competing against high level players both helps me improve and become better,” said Dina.
The 2017 Business Administration graduate of the American University, Cairo, described the lockdown necessitated by the Coronavirus pandemic and the postponement of the Olympic Games as an opportunity to spend time with her family.
“I am happy I have more time to prepare for such a big event and of course safety comes first, so it was important that the event be postponed rather than having people get infected with the virus. I was also very happy I had a chance to spend more time with my family and more time at home, as I really missed it due to traveling a lot. I needed a break from having to compete quite often. I tried my best to stay in shape and practise table tennis at home as well as do physical fitness. I also had more time to enjoy my hobbies, such as playing the piano,” said Dina.
Dina admitted that this year’s Ramadan was unique as it was marked during the lockdown.
“I practised table tennis and physical fitness, and did prayers and the rituals such as reading the Holy Quran, and I also watched Egyptian series and religious programmes that were on during Ramadan. I am glad there were no tournaments or matches during Ramadan this year at is always difficult to fast during the day and play. I can say it was somehow one of the most convenient Ramadans, as I was in control of when I can practise and if I felt tired I would rest as I knew there were no competitions coming up soon. Also, I am happy I got the chance to spend the whole month with my family at home so that we can enjoy the rituals of that month together. I tried my best to stay in shape during that month. I divided my training sessions between table tennis and physical fitness. I preferred to do my workouts, training sessions after eating,” she added.
“I guess table tennis is considered to be a professional and an Olympic sport and at the same time considered as a fun sport; many people like to play it as a hobby. I guess all racket sports are more fun to play. What is also unique about table tennis is that it has a lot of different shots (forehand, backhand, banana, forehand flip, strawberry) as well as different serves, with different spins and places to play at. Those shots even increase by time. 20 years ago for example I guess the “banana shot was not there. I think this makes the game even more interesting. Also, the fact that it has different styles of play (defence players, long pimples players, short pimples players, attack players etc.) makes it a unique game,” said Dina.
Since taking to table tennis, Dina said the support from her family has been awesome.
“My parents have always been very supportive throughout my career and they were very keen I take sports seriously. Having been former champions of the game was also a huge plus for me, as they have transferred to me all the different experiences they have gone through, and their advice is always very precious.
I have learnt a lot from table tennis. I have learnt to accept losses and turn them into victories. I have also learnt patience, as sometimes results take time to occur. Through travelling since I was young, I learnt to be independent and responsible; gained lots of experience by competing internationally. I learnt about different cultures and how different continents and countries are unique from one another. I have had some great moments in table tennis as well as tough ones; all of which are part of the journey, and I now understand that there is always ups and downs in life,” said Dina.
Since turning professional, Dina has featured for El-Ahly Club (Egypt), Çukorova University Club in Turkey, Storfors club in Sweden, Tavros Club in Greece and is currently playing for Langstadt Club in Germany.
The Cairo-based national champion said her foray into international tournament started when she was 14, having attended several training camps in Europe and Asia, which she said aided her growth in the sport.
For her, she regretted not training more when she was young which she said would have helped her mature into the game early.
“I regret every time I could have trained more while I was younger and haven’t, as now as I’m growing older, some injuries arise and I have less control over my body. My greatest moment in the sport was after winning the gold medal at the Mediterranean Games Singles event in Tarragona, Spain in 2018. It was the first gold medal for an African player in that event and it wasn’t easy to win it as there were many good players in that event. In the final I beat Yang Xiaoxin from Monaco, who is a very strong player.
I did not regret taking to table tennis but I thank God, I have had lots of beautiful moments in table tennis, and learnt lots of new things as well as lots of life lessons from the sport,” she said.
Notably, for Dina, coaching is not in her plan after retirement.
“I am not thinking of coaching after quitting table tennis; I would be more interested to manage an academy and be responsible to a large number of players. I hope I can one day start a table tennis academy in Egypt and help young players and raise the level of table tennis in Egypt. I advise upcoming players to always fight for what they want and never give up. Discipline is mandatory in table tennis and in any sport; a player should always listen to what the coaches say and try to act as champions do by eating and sleeping well. Also, they have to be patient, as sometimes achieving results takes time,” she said.
For now, marriage is not in her plans either.
“I don’t know when I will get married, as this issue is a matter of fate and not something I control or plan for. When the time comes it will happen. But for now, it isn’t.”