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U.S. Open: Maria Sakklari hoping to be first Greek to win Grand Slam title

U.S. Open: Maria Sakklari hoping to be first Greek to
win Grand Slam title 1

Tennis was a part of the first modern Olympics in 1896 at Athens, Greece. But no Greek player man or woman has ever won a Grand Slam title.

Marcos Baghdatis was runner-up at the 2006 Australian Open and Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the French Open final this year.

Maria Sakkari, a native of Athens, was trying to book her place in the U.S. Open final on Thursday night against British teen Emma Raducanu, blazing a trail of Olympic proportions at the U.S. Open. No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka was playing Canadian teen Leylah Fernandez in the first match.

Sakkari is following closely in the footsteps of Tsitsipas, who lost to Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. Eleni Daniilidou once reached a ranking of 14, but never reached a Grand Slam final.

Sakkari had a chance to reach the French final, too, but lost a heartbreaking semifinal. After beating Naomi Osaka along the way, Sakkari held a match point at 5-3 in the third set of the semi against Barbora Krejcikova, the eventual champion, only to lose it and the match, 7-5, 4-6, 9-7.

“I lost sleep for four days after that match,” Sakkari said. “I was a point away from the final.”

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She has played well enough this year to reach a career-high ranking of 18, and believes she belongs among the best. Sakkari, a 26-year-old who has one career title, has six wins over top-5 opponents in the past two years and nine top-20 wins in 2021.

She has certainly shown her mettle at the Open. Sakkari, seeded 17th, defeated Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 Open champion, in an epic Round of 16 match that lasted three hours, 30 minutes and went to 2:13 a.m.—the latest women’s match in U.S. Open history. That was after she had beaten 10th seed Petra Kvitova in the previous round with an impressive two-set performance, then in the quarterfinals she ran over No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova in two sets.

In the process she has picked her share of Ashe Stadium crowd support, no doubt some of it coming from the large Greek community in nearby Astoria, Queens.

“Last year I played against Serena [Round of 16 in a tournament without spectators] on this court, and I mean it was dead city,” Sakkari said. “I’m very excited that I’m playing in front of a crowd.”

Sakkari’s Instagram handle, “SAKKATTACK,” is a good indicator of her game. She is a muscular 5-8 and puts a lot into her serve, particularly her kick serve, and has a strong topspin forehand that can chew up opponents’ rackets when it’s on point, sort of like Rafael Nadal. She has lost only one set in this tournament, to Andreescu.

The Andreescu match proved to her that her one-match mindset, never mind you are at a Grand Slam, is working.

“I’m just gonna stick to what I’m doing good right now and stay with the same mindset,” she said. “Just keep believing in myself that I can, you know, go further in this tournament. Just keep fighting, that’s it. That can take you far.”

And she managed to do all this while keeping her very neat hairdo intact, a bun stacked high on her head.

“Using a lot of hair spray,” Sakkari told the crowd on court after the Kvitova match. “That’s why it always looks so good.”

Doubles finalists: Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury defeated Americans Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson, 7-6 ( 5), 6-4 to reach the doubles final. They will play Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 winners over John Peers and Filip Polasek.

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