Maria Sakkari in 2021: Grand Slam semis, Historic top 10 debut, First WTA final
A Grand Slam semi-final and a Top 10 debut – both firsts for her and Greek women’s tennis. It’s been an incredible season for Maria Sakkari
While some players rise up the ranks quickly at a young age, there are others who take some time to develop their game and physical conditioning to compete at the highest levels of pro tennis. Greece’s Maria Sakkari is one of those who fall into the second category. The 26-year-old ended the season in the top 100 for the first time in 2016 at the age of 23 and has been steadily improving ever since.
2021 was Sakkari’s breakthrough year where she went further than any other woman from her country in the history of tennis. Let’s now review the historic 2021 season of the Greek No 1.
- Sakkari’s ranking at the end of 2020: 22
- Sakkari’s ranking at the end of 2021: 6
- Sakkari’s 2021 win-loss record: 38-20
- Sakkari’s Titles: 0
Worst moment on court for Maria Sakkari: First-round exit at the Australian Open
Melbourne Park has happy memories for Sakkari. It was the Slam where she reached the third round for the first time (2017) and made the second week at a Slam for the first time (fourth round in 2020). After starting the season with back-to-back semi-finals in Abu Dhabi and Melbourne (Grampians Trophy), Sakkari surprisingly fell in the first round of the Australian Open to France’s Kristina Mlandenovic in three sets.
Sakkari’s best Grand Slam Result: Semi-Finals at Roland-Garros and US Open
Before Sakkari, no woman from Greece had ever made a Grand Slam quarter-final. The 26-year-old achieved that landmark for the first time at the French Open in June and went one step ahead to reach the semis, with wins over 15th ranked Elsie Mertens, former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and the defending champion Iga Swiatek before going down to eventual winner Barbora Krejcikova.
Sakkari replicated that achievement a few months later at the US Open, where she beat the likes of 11th ranked Petra Kvitova, seventh ranked Bianca Andreescu and fourth-ranked Karolina Pliskova before going down once again to the eventual champion Emma Raducanu in the last four.
Best Performance outside the Slams: Reaching first WTA singles final and the semis at the WTA Finals
Outside of the Majors, Sakkari reached back-to-back semi-finals in January as well as the last four in Miami, where she ended the 23-match winning streak of four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka.
But the Greek had never reached a singles final on the tour until she broke through that barrier at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open in September (0-9 prior to Ostrava). Sakkari scored wins over two former French Open champions – Jelena Ostapenko and Swiatek – before going down to the red-hot Anett Kontaveit in the final.
The result made her the first Greek woman to break into the world’s top 10, and along with a semi-final in Kremlin (which included a win over Simona Halep), helped her secure a spot at the season-ending WTA Finals.
Sakkari scored wins over Swiatek and Sabalenka in Guadalajara to reach the semi-finals, helping her finish the season at a career-high No 6.
Maria Sakkari off-the-court
Away from the courts, Sakkari spends a lot of her time on her physical conditioning and is one of the fittest players on the WTA Tour.
Like most women her age, she also loves dressing up and spending time with her near and dear ones.
Sakkari by Sakkari : “This Top 10 milestone felt special”
By the standards of teenage prodigies and young Grand Slam winners inn women’s tennis, Sakkari has been a relatively late bloomer in the game, which makes her success all the more special, as she herself said in a recent interview to Eurosport.
Being the first Greek female tennis player to ever achieve this (top 10) made it even better.
“I broke into the Top 10 when I was 26 and I think having a breakthrough at this age requires having a different sort of mentality”, Sakkari said. “When you are young and at the early stages of your career, you’re fearless – you don’t think and you just play.”
“At 26, you are a lot more mature, a lot more aware and you have to handle things differently. So that’s why this milestone felt even more special for me. Of course, being the first Greek female tennis player to ever achieve this made it even better. It’s a big thing for myself, my family and my country, and with Stefanos [Tsitsipas] in the Top 10 for guys too, it’s just a very nice thing for Greece.”
Tennis Majors’ view
Maria Sakkari has admitted that she was overwhelmed by the occasion when she got to her first Major semi-final, where she had a match point against Krejcikova before losing. However, she rebounded well from that stinging loss to finish the season on a high note. Sakkari has the fitness, the power and the mental fortitude to stay among the game’s elite. If she remains fit, she could be contending for the Grand Slams in 2022.