After advancing to her first Slam semifinal, at Roland Garros in May—and becoming the first Greek woman ever to go that deep in a major—Maria Sakkari signed the camera on court with the word “Hellas,” surrounded by a heart.
Hellas is Greek for, well, Greece.
Greece may be the birthplace of the Olympic Games, but it has never been known as a tennis powerhouse. Suddenly the nation of 10 million has two major tennis stars: No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, a finalist at this year’s French Open, and Sakkari, a semifinalist at Roland Garros and up to a career-high No. 18 on the women’s tour.
Sakkari is not content to be the other Greek.
The compact, 5-foot-8 and powerfully built Sakkari has been muscling a number of top-rated players around this year. To arrive at her second consecutive fourth round at the US Open, the 26-year-old Greek upset 10th-seeded Petra Kvitova—the Czech two-time Slam winner who is normally the one pushing players around on court.
Sakkari dismantled Kvitova in two very convincing sets, 6-4, 6-3, winning 89% of her first-serve points.
“Last year I played against Serena on this court, and I mean it was dead city,” said Sakkari, who grew up in Athens, a place with plenty of incredible ruins. “I’m very excited that I’m playing in front of a crowd.”
In the Roland Garros semifinals, Sakkari held a match point at 5-3 in the third set against Barbora Krejcikova, the eventual champion, only to lose it and the match in dramatic fashion, 7-5, 4-6, 9-7.
“I lost sleep for four days after that match,” recalled Sakkari. “I was a point away from the final.”
“I proved to myself that I can do it. Hopefully this week.”
This week means a rematch of her equally dramatic semifinal against the sixth-seeded Canadian Bianca Andreescu at the Miami Open in April. That match was a war, with Andreescu eking out a win, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6. Sakkari served for the match at 6-5 in the final set but was broken at love.
Sakkari expects the upcoming encounter to be similarly taxing. “Bianca is one of the toughest players to play on the tour,” said the Greek after her third-round win here, “and I’m prepared that it’s gonna be a very, very tough match for both of us.”