Sakkari stuns Wozniacki in Wuhan
Young Greek tennis player Maria Sakkari has continued to make her mark on the WTA tour. On Tuesday she scored the biggest win of her career at the Wuhan Open, upsetting world number six Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the second round, 7-5 6-3.
Sakkari, who had previously never beaten a top 25 player, has now recorded the biggest win for a Greek tennis player in over 12 years. The last time a Greek player beat an opponent ranked that high was in August 2005 in Los Angeles, where Eleni Daniilidou beat then number four Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia.
Sakkari began the tournament as the 11th seed in the qualifying draw in Wuhan, a Premier 5 level WTA tournament. She qualified without dropping a set, beating Bulgarian Aleksandrina Naydenova (world number 317) 6-3 6-0, and second seeded Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva (world number 64) 6-1 7-6. In the first round of the main draw, Maria came from behind to eliminate Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva (world number 48) 1-6 6-4 6-2 for her third win in three days.
Although Sakkari was having a great tournament, she was still a massive underdog in her second round match against Wozniacki. The Dane, having formerly been ranked number one in the world, appeared to be in great form after winning the title in Tokyo last week. Presently ranked sixth in the world and being the fourth seed in Wuhan, Wozniacki was clearly among the main contenders to win the title.
Sakkari came out firing, playing aggressively and dictating most of the rallies. Despite squandering a 4-2 lead in the first set, Sakkari managed to recover and save a set point and then hold on to win the set 7-5. The second set was similar, as Sakkari got an early break but could not maintain it, but then at 3-3 she broke Wozniacki’s serve twice in a row to take it 6-3. With this win, Sakkari also leveled her head to head with Wozniacki, as the Dane had won their only previous meeting 6-3 6-0 in a Greece vs. Denmark Fed Cup playoff back in April 2015. This win must be extra sweet for Sakkari’s new coach Thomas Johansson, as he happens to be Wozniacki’s former coach.
“It feels great [to beat Wozniacki], she’s a very tough opponent to play - she’s so solid and she comes from winning in Tokyo so she had confidence. I knew it would be a tough match, but I think I did the right preparations,” Sakkari said in her post-match press conference.
“The key was to be consistent and stable from the baseline, try to hit winners when I could and serve well, and just keep that rhythm for the whole match - that’s what I did.” That strategy worked well for Sakkari, as she hit a total of 23 winners in the match.
“My tennis is not aggressive. I can describe myself as more of a solid player,” Sakkari admitted. “It is quite tough for me to hit a lot of winners sometimes. But I had to today, otherwise she would have the advantage in the match. It’s something I’m working on with my coach, playing aggressive.”
Next up for the Greek is the 16th seed Elena Vesnina of Russia in the round of 16. Vesnina, the number 21 player in the world, can actually be considered Greek too as she has a Greek grandfather.
Currently at a career-high ranking of 80, Sakkari will move up to a new career-high regardless of her result on Wednesday against Vesnina. She will pass Christina Papadaki (who got up to number 72 back in 1999) as the third highest-ranked Greek player of all-time. It is unclear where exactly Sakkari will be ranked, as it still depends on other results (including hers), but she seems set to make her top 70 debut, at the very least. In order to become the highest-ranked Greek ever, she will need to pass Angeliki Kanellopoulou (former number 43 and also Sakkari’s mother) and Eleni Daniilidou (former number 14). As long as she continues to improve, the sky is the limit for Maria Sakkari, the pride of Sparti.