Sakkari is in awe of her fellow Greek’s rise this season, and was following closely when the 20-year-old Tsitsipas made history in Toronto earlier this month, becoming the youngest player to beat four top-10 opponents at a single tournament since the ATP World Tour was established in 1990.
After defeating Dominic Thiem (No. 8), Novak Djokovic (No. 10), Alexander Zverev (No. 3) and Kevin Anderson (No. 6), Tsitsipas fell to Rafael Nadal in the Toronto final, which coincided with his 20th birthday.
His run came on the heels of Sakkari’s runner-up showing in San Jose just one week earlier, where she was featuring in her maiden WTA final.
The Greek duo are both seeded at the US Open this fortnight, with Tsitsipas at No. 15 and Sakkari at 32.
“Oh my God, goosebumps. He’s, I cannot describe it… he’s unbelievable,” Sakkari said of Tsitsipas in Cincinnati last week.
“The thing is that I’m not going to watch his matches again. I couldn’t watch, I couldn’t watch. I was talking to my best friend back home, she was watching as well, and I told her, ‘How can you watch my matches?’ I was watching Stefanos and I was like, ‘Oh my God, what’s this?’ The match with Anderson and of course with Nadal the second set. It’s incredible.
“He’s 20 years old, you look at him inside the court, the balance that he has, the choices, the decisions; it’s something unique.
“He’s one guy who inspires me. After doing what he did, I want to do the same thing. He’s a player and an athlete I’m going to look after and it’s very important for me to have him because if I’m alone on the tour (from Greece), I have no one to look after.
“So for me, even if he’s a guy and it’s something different, Stefanos is a role model for us and for me.”
She added: “It’s unbelievable what he has done. I’m not going to say more things because he might read them and get stressed but I have very high expectations for him. But he’s going to get to the top very, very soon, he’s already [there]. It’s good to look after another player from your country, and we are only two. I think it’s a great thing and it’s great for our country.”
Sakkari has been rather inspirational herself. The 23-year-old is one of the most successful tennis players in Greek tennis history and her recent appearance in the final of the WTA Premier-level tournament in San Jose has helped her reach a career-high ranking of No. 30.
As Sakkari puts it, she is a “proud Spartan”, and is happy to fly the flag for her country around the globe. On Monday at the US Open, the large Greek community present in the area is likely to come out in full force to support both her and Tsitsipas in their first-round matches, with Sakkari taking on local wildcard Asia Muhammad, and her countryman facing Spanish veteran qualifier Tommy Robredo.
“I think now it’s going to be even more because having two players doing well the weeks right before the US Open – of course it feels great. To see Greeks outside of Greece coming to support you, they’re even more passionate. So I’m looking forward to see what’s going to happen,” said Sakkari ahead of the Open.
Coached by 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, along with Tom Hill – a recent graduate from Pepperdine University – Sakkari has made steady progress over the past 12 months, and is already up 21 spots in the rankings since the start of the season.
Team Sakkari has a flawless sunglass game going on… pic.twitter.com/89FwYCnnDI
— Jimmie48 Photography (@JJlovesTennis) August 26, 2018
“Of course I’ve improved. Two years ago, or one year ago, before I started with Thomas, I was like two metres behind the baseline and I was running down everything, which was enough to make it to the top-100 but then since I started with Thomas, we stepped inside the court. Of course sometimes you have to stay back if the other one is hitting hard. I have improved a lot my offensive game,” she explains.
“Now I have a clear idea of what I have to do on court. Of course you cannot do it every single match. If I can do it every single match it’s going to be great but the thing is that I will try to do it more consistently and every match have like a base. And of course the serve has to be quite big. But now I think I’m more used to the level, I get to play and practice with all the top girls. And some of the girls I’ve played twice or three times, like Naomi Osaka, or Venus Williams.”
Sakkari looked up to Kim Clijsters growing up, along with Serena Williams and Justine Henin, and is constantly trying to work on her aggressiveness on court.
More players are taking notice of her on tour and her on-court fighting spirit has already troubled several top stars.
“That’s what I want to get to. That’s my goal. I’m not Maria Sharapova, I’m not Serena Williams – okay I’m strong but I’m not tall, I have a good serve but not a serve or strokes that will make me win the match with one shot. My goal is to become a very solid player and that’s what I’m working on.
“I want to become one of the players who is not going to be an easy draw for the other ones.”
She may not be one of the tall players on tour with massive groundstrokes but a quick look at the current top-10 in the world rankings reveals that the shorter, counter-punchers are enjoying lots of success at the moment.
“It’s not only Simona [Halep], of course she’s No. 1, it’s also Caroline [Wozniacki], Sloane [Stephens], [Elina] Svitolina, [Angelique] Kerber… which I think gives me a lot of confidence to try to be one of them,” said Sakkari.
Sakkari and Johansson teamed up a year ago and the partnership paid dividends almost immediately as she made the third round at the 2017 US Open and the semis in Wuhan shortly after.
She spent the offseason training with him in Monaco and Dubai, and through him, she got to spend time on court with his friends, star siblings Marat Safin and Dinara Safina.
“I have a lot of confidence in him and I admire him,” Sakkari says of her Swedish coach.
“He inspires me, that’s what I told him the first time when we sat down, I told him that having him outside the court, he inspires me to play, which I think is the most important thing. Tom [Hill] is also doing a great job following the instructions of Thomas then he’s not here.
“We all know Thomas was a great player and only thinking that he has done what you’re doing and many more things and he has been in the same situation and it’s also the chemistry that you have with one person.
“I think we have a very good partnership for that reason. Even outside and inside the court, we get to understand each other, so that’s a very big thing and that’s why many players are changing coaches maybe after a couple of months because they don’t have this, that’s my opinion.”
Yet to reach the second week of a major, Sakkari feels ready to take that next step at the Slams.
“I think I’ve played the third round in all four Slams, so for me making the fourth round, the second week, it’s something very big and something that I really want to achieve,” she says.
— Timea Bacsinszky (@TimeaOfficial) August 23, 2018
The US Open commences on Monday with the top half of both the men’s and women’s draws in action, which means defending champions Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens will take to the court on opening day.
Known before 1968 as the US National Championships, the US Open is the second-oldest of the four Grand Slams after Wimbledon, and the only one to have been played each year since its inception in 1881.
First held in 1887, the US Open women’s singles championship is being staged for the 132nd time.
Here’s a look at some of the standout stats and figures ahead of the 2018 US Open.
0 – players in the Open Era have managed to win the US Open without dropping a set.
3 – matches lost by top-seeded Rafael Nadal in 2018 — the same number he lost in 2013 entering the US Open. Nadal is 40-3 this season and was 53-3 at the start of the 2013 US Open, where he won his 13th Grand Slam title.
6 – Roger Federer is targeting a sixth US Open title which would give him sole ownership of the top spot on the leaderboard of most trophies won here in the Open Era. He is currently in a three-way tie with Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras with five.
7 – former US Open champions present in the 2018 draw: Nadal (2010, 2013, 2017), Stan Wawrinka (2016), Novak Djokovic (2011, 2015), Marin Cilic (2014), Andy Murray (2012), Juan Martin del Potro (2009), Roger Federer (2004-08).
9 – Former US Open junior champions in the draw: Felix Auger-Aliassime (2016), Taylor Fritz (2015), Borna Coric (2013), Jack Sock (2010), Grigor Dimitrov (2008), Ricardas Berankis (2007), Andy Murray (2004), Richard Gasquet (2002), Gilles Muller (2001).
10 – years since Federer last won the US Open.
11 – former college players in the draw
13 – The ‘Big Four’ have dominated the top two spots in the world rankings for the past 13 years. That could change after the US Open with Juan Martin Del Potro and Alexander Zverev both having a chance to surpass Federer and become the new world No. 2.
13 – months since the ‘Big Four’ all competed at the same tournament. Their last reunion was at Wimbledon 2017. They finally reunite again at this US Open.
16 – NextGen (21-and-under) players in the draw: Hubert Hurkacz (21), Lloyd Harris (21), Alexander Zverev (21), Jaume Munar (21), Andrey Rublev (20), Taylor Fritz (20), Michael Mmoh (20), Frances Tiafoe (20), Ugo Humbert (20), Stefanos Tsitsipas (20), Casper Ruud (19), Alex de Minaur (19), Denis Shapovalov (19), Corentin Moutet (19), Felix Auger-Aliassime (18), Jenson Brooksby (17).
37 – At 37 years of age, Federer is bidding to become the oldest US Open champion in the Open Era, and oldest US Open finalist since 1974.
42 – 30-and-over players in the draw.
2 – players are seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam: Aryna Sabalenka (No. 26) and Maria Sakkari (No. 32).
6 – players in the draw are undefeated in US Open first round matches: Venus Williams (19-0), Serena Williams (17-0), Patty Schnyder (14-0), Agnieszka Radwanska (12-0), Maria Sharapova (11-0) and Victoria Azarenka (10-0).
7 – former US Open champions in the draw: Sloane Stephens (2017), Angelique Kerber (2016), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004), Maria Sharapova (2006), Samantha Stosur (2011), Serena Williams (1999, 2002, 2008, 2012-14) and Venus Williams (2000, 2001).
17 – In the Open Era, the reigning Wimbledon champion has gone on to win the US Open 17 times. Kerber would be the first player since Serena in 2012 to pull off that feat.
22 – There have been 22 successful women’s singles title defences at the US Open. Sloane Stephens will try to make that figure 23.
24 – Serena Williams is chasing an all-time record 24th Grand Slam title which would equal Margaret Court’s tally.
44 – Simona Halep will maintain her position as world No. 1 irrespective of her US Open result. It will take her total tally to 44 weeks at the summit, including this next fortnight.
80 – Venus Williams is appearing in her Open Era record 80th Grand Slam main draw.
The on-court shot clock has made several appearances over the past 12 months, starting with the qualifying tournament at the US Open last year, the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan and more recently during the US Open Series events.
Next week, it will make its Grand Slam main draw debut at the US Open in efforts to limit time taken between points and ensure players adhere to warm-up and changeover times.
The shot clock, which counts down from 25 seconds between points and is started manually by the chair umpire when he/she calls out the score, has been met with mixed reviews from the players who have experienced it in the past few weeks in Canada, Cincinnati or other events.
Some find it useful, others find it stressful, and some imply it actually helps them slow down before serving, which perhaps means the shot clock might end up adding time to an overall match rather than the other way around.
Here’s what some of the top players had to say about it.
“I think it’s really important to keep the game authentic. I think that sometimes we try to get a little bit too creative. I think that the shot clock is another human, like, to start it, to stop it, whatever. It’s all human, whatever.
“I think at a point in the match where it’s really close and all of a sudden you get a shot clock violation but two points before that it wasn’t even started on time, like, I think those types of things are just kind of up in the air.
“But I think, I mean, it’s okay. Like, it’s not bad. I mean, you have to pay attention more. Something else to focus on, something else to look out when you look up before you serve. But, I mean, we’ll see if it stays, it goes, what happens.”
“Actually I’m fine with that. I got a time violation already, but I don’t think it was my fault, but okay. Overall it’s fine.
“I got some talks sometimes before [about my speed between points] from the chair umpire but I really try. No I think I was okay playing the matches in Montreal [with the shot clock]. I don’t think I’m that slow.”
“It’s actually quite cool because I’m always so quick so now I can take my time more. It does help definitely because I think I’m really, really quick. Sometimes I don’t even make a decision where I’m going to serve next so now I can see that I still have 15 seconds and I can take my time to think about what I’m going to do.
“I think only Nick Kyrgios is the quickest player ever. And Federer as well.”
It’s time to get our heads around the #serveclock ⏰ @Petra_Kvitova, @CaroGarcia, @KaPliskova, @juliagoerges, @ARadwanska, @Daria_gav and @CoCoVandey break it down…#CTOpenTennis pic.twitter.com/eaZHjmElRi
— Connecticut Open (@connecticutopen) August 23, 2018
“If I’m looking forward to [playing with the shot clock]? Not Really. I think a lot of people will struggle with that because I know some people are slower, some people are faster. I’m pretty normal I think. Sometimes you’re a little too slow but sometimes you have a 45-balls rally, so it’s understandable. It’s, I don’t know. We’ll see how I feel but I’m sure people will be a little itchy.”
“I think it’s alright. I thought it was going to be faster. But actually it starts when the umpire says the score so sometimes there’s a bit of a delay between the end of the point and the time he’s saying the score so most of the time I still have 15 or 10 seconds and I’m alright. I think it’s good because it’s fair for everyone and you can see it, you don’t have to ask the umpire. It makes it more clear for everyone.
“The first match I was looking at it a little bit because I had no idea how slow I was going but now I know my timing is pretty okay so I’m alright.”
“The shot clock, it’s not bad. I think it’s good, it’s interesting for the fans. The only thing for us is we need to still adapt to it. In some cases you’re watching the clock when it’s going to wind down and you’re not sure exactly how much time you have left and you can see the guys before the serve watching how many seconds they have left. I think the guys are going to get used to it.”
“I’m still not sure about the shot clock how I feel about it. I play pretty fast to be honest. I noticed in Montreal last week that the only thing that a couple of times I got close was getting out of the chair when they call time. By the time you get from the chair over to get your ball and then get ready for the serve I’m like ‘oh gosh, I have five seconds left’ and you’re like stressed. So maybe that’s one point where I’m like ‘okay, give us a little time’. But other than that it isn’t something that I would really stress about or anything.”