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Sakkari stops Sabalenka – surging Greek is the first to qualify for semis in Fort Worth

The Greek fought off a late rally by Sabalenka to remain undefeated at this year’s WTA Finals.

Maria Sakkari WTA Finals 2022 Maria Sakkari WTA Finals 2022 || Zuma / Panoramic

Maria Sakkari is finding her best form at the right time in 2022. The Greek dispatched Aryna Sabalenka on Wednesday in Fort Worth to book her spot in the last four at the WTA Finals, 6-2, 6-4.

It was a lopsided contest until Sabalenka got the wake-up call midway through the second set. She then reeled off four straight games to get her nose in front in set two, but Sakkari answered the bell and took the final three games to close out her 39th victory of the season in one hour and 37 minutes.

“I felt like I did nothing wrong from three-love,” Sakkari said after the victory. “Maybe I was a little bit passive, but at the same time, she started making more balls. She started being more aggressive. She was making every shot she wasn’t missing like in the first set and a half. 

“I just told myself keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll get your chances and you know with a little bit of well deserved luck I would say, I managed to close out the match.”

Sakkari defeated Jessica Pegula in her first match at the WTA Finals. She was also a semi-finalist on her debut last year in Guadalajara.

Things were tense down the stretch, and Sakkari got a little bit of help from the tennis gods in the last game, aka a fortuitous net cord bounce.

It was well-deserved, she said.

“I believe that you earn your luck. Sometimes it’s nice to have a little bit of luck, I’m not very lucky on the court,” Sakkari said.

Finding her way out of a funk

Sakkari has not been shy about talking through the difficulties she has faced during the summer, as her confidence sagged and wins were hard to come by. She says she had to strip her game down to the basic parts in order to build it back up again.

“There was a stage in the season that I couldn’t make more than three balls because I was either too passive or I was just rushing too much,” she said. “So when I found my balance in my mind… I was actually talking with [my coach Tom Hill] and we said ‘You have to go back to basics, make a lot of balls, run and then we’re gonna build up and just be more aggressive and take balls more on the rise and just approach the net a little bit more.’

“But it wasn’t like just in one day I was just playing lights out. It was a building process.”

Hill a fixture through good and bad

Though Sakkari’s game has been up and down at times, her relationship with coach Tom Hill has been rock solid. She explained the bond the pair share in a television interview, saying that she plans to spend her entire career with Hill.

“We both said to each other that we want to stay together until I’m done with my tennis career because you cannot find that chemistry,” she said. “That relationship on the tour, because as you say, especially in women’s tennis, it’s like one month, two months and then it’s over. That doesn’t work with me. I worked with coaches and then the shortest I’ve worked with a coach was like a year and a half so it wasn’t like I kept changing coaches and stuff –  that’s not my character.”

“Tom is great. We get along really well on and off the court. We’re the same age so that is very important, rather than having someone a lot older. We get to do things together. You know, he’s great and everyone around me is great.”

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