Maria Sakkari: meet the big-serving Greek facing Emma Raducanu in the US Open semi-final

Maria Sakkari of Greece - Getty
Maria Sakkari of Greece - Getty

Emma Raducanu has taken the US Open by storm, winning eight matches without dropping a set and becoming the first ever qualifier to reach the semi-finals.

The 18-year-old has fast become a fan favourite in New York with her on-court composure and off-court charm, and tonight (early Friday morning UK) will play the most important match of her career.

Maria Sakkari, the world number 18, is standing in the way of a US Open final. The pair will meet under the lights at Flushing Meadows at about 8.15pm local time (1.15am Friday in the UK).

The 5’8” Greek has embarked on her own mighty run, beating Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, US Open winner Bianca Andreescu and world number four Karolina Pliskova on her way to the semi finals.

“I think I had one of the toughest draws,” she said on Wednesday night after her 6-4, 6-4 quarter-final win over Pliskova.

“I had to play really well to be here.

“That gives me a lot of confidence because I beat some very, very good players to reach the semifinals this time.”

Age and experience

Sakkari is the oldest of the final four women left in the tournament at 26, but laughed off any suggestions she is slowing up.

“I think I'm the best age of my career. I'm more mature than before,” she said on Wednesday night, relaxed, wearing leggings and flip flops in the press room after her match.

“I think every single player has a different timing of breaking through. Now it's probably my time at the age of 26.

"I came late to the tour. I was not a good junior. I was not a star when I was 18 or 19 years old.

"I had to work and sacrifice a lot from my life. But it's now paying off and I'm very happy that at the age of 26 I can actually achieve these results."

She has proved it on the court.

Her match against Andreescu lasted three-and-a-half hours and didn’t finish until 2:13am on Tuesday morning. She showed no signs of fatigue as she swept away the higher-ranked, more experienced Pliskova the following day.

Greece's Maria Sakkari serves to Czech Republic's Katerina Siniakova during their 2021 US Open
Greece's Maria Sakkari serves to Czech Republic's Katerina Siniakova during their 2021 US Open

Serving

Inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Sakkari put on a serving masterclass to deny her Czech opponent any chance to gain any foothold.

Sakkari lost just two points on her first serve for the entire match (23 of 25).

She won 17 of 23 on her second serve.

During one stretch through the first set and early games of the second, Sakkari won 22 consecutive service points.

She didn’t face a single break point in the entire match.

“I trusted my serve but now I trust it even more,” she said afterwards.

Sakkari is one of the faster servers on the tour, with a top speed of 119mph this tournament, compared to Raducanu’s 110mph.

Raducanu, who has returned 81 per cent of the serves she has faced, will need to keep that level of consistency if she is to seize control of the match.

Sakkari won 11 out of the 12 points where she advanced to the net during her match with Pliskova - AFP
Sakkari won 11 out of the 12 points where she advanced to the net during her match with Pliskova - AFP

Approaching the net

There is more to Sakkari’s game than just her serve.

On Wednesday, she won 11 out of the 12 points where she advanced to the net, opening the court up and rifling passing shots past Pliskova.

Against Andreescu she approached the net 29 times, winning 18 points.

Raducanu will try to keep Sakkari at the baseline and engaging in longer rallies.

Against Kvitova and Pliskova, Sakkari dominated rallies of four shots or under, but had less success as the hitting endured.

Emma Raducanu returns against Belinda Bencic during her quarter-finals match - Getty
Emma Raducanu returns against Belinda Bencic during her quarter-finals match - Getty

What Sakkari thinks of Raducanu

On Wednesday night the Telegraph asked what Sakkari was expecting from her encounter with the British teenage sensation.

“Well, she's a new player on tour so I don't know much about her,” was the reply.

“Obviously she's having the tournament of her life. She deserves to be here. She has won all these matches.

“It doesn't matter that she's lower ranked. She's a great player. I'm just going to go for it and enjoy, because this atmosphere was insane, was crazy, was very nice."

Until Wednesday, Raducanu had never played someone ranked in the top 40. She’s never played anyone in the top 20.

“I wouldn't call myself the favourite,” said Sakkari.

“I think we all have equal chances of winning the semifinals and then winning the title. I would give 25 per cent to each starting tomorrow, then 50 to the two finalists.

“We are all here for a reason. We're all playing well.”

Off the court

Sakkari is an instantly likeable character and popular back home in Greece, even though she is based in Monaco.

Along with NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo and men’s world number three tennis player Stefanos Tsitsipas, she is one of the country’s top athletes, rising to fame after making it to the semi finals of the French open this year.

She dedicated Wednesday’s quarter-final win to the Greek people suffering from the deadly wildfires this summer.

Sakkari and Raducanu both used to be coached by Mark Petchey, but she is now trained by Tom Hill, an American ex-professional.

Sakkari’s Instagram page is littered with endorsements of Porsche, Nestle, Adidas, Focal headphones, Aptiva skincare products and credit cards.

A Christian Dior handbag has been customised with “SakkAttack” emblazoned on the front.

Her mother Angeliki Kanellopoulou is a former tennis player, having reached world number 43, but retired aged 25.

“Her career was pretty small, and she hopes my career is longer. I think it's going to be,” said Sakkari on Wednesday night.

“I'm not thinking of stopping playing tennis anytime soon.”

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source https://sports.yahoo.com/maria-sakkari-meet-big-serving-025935226.html?src=rss

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