Maria Sakkari upset world number five Karolina Pliskova in three sets to advance to the third round of the Italian Open.
The Czech raced through the opening set, taking it 6-3. In the second set, Sakkari would go up 3-0, but not before Pliskova would level the set at 3-3. Ultimately, Sakkari would take it 6-3 to force a decisive third set.
The third set couldn’t have been any closer, as Pliskova was two points away from winning the match, though Sakkari would hold serve to make it 5-5. With the score at 5-5 40-40 on Pliskova’s serve, the Czech would hit an overhead smash that was controversially ruled out by the lineswoman. Although the replay showed the ball clearly in (unbeknownst to those on court at the time), the chair umpire could not locate the mark on the court and therefore awarded the point to Sakkari. Pliskova was furious at this stage in the match, and the Greek was kind enough to offer to replay the point.
In the end, Sakkari would defeat a distraught Pliskova 7-5 in the third, to send the Czech packing. After the match, the Czech furiously smashed her racket on the umpire’s chair (while the umpire was still sitting in it) and refused to shake hands with her. To make matters worse, the cameras turned to her coach who gave the middle finger to them. It is expected that Pliskova, who was subsequently booed off the court, will face a hefty fine and a possible suspension for her inappropriate actions.
This marks just the second career top 10 win for Sakkari, and first of the year. It is also her first-ever win over a top 5 opponent, and the first for a Greek woman since 2005. Sakkari appears to be in fine form, as Pliskova has been one of the best players on clay this season, winning the title in Stuttgart and reaching the semifinals last week in Madrid. It should be noted that in the previous round, Sakkari upset world number 15 Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands in three sets. Bertens has been another star on clay this season, as she won the title in Charleston and was the runner-up in Madrid. Can these big wins make Sakkari a dark horse for the French Open?
Perhaps that question can be answered in Thursday’s third round, as Sakkari will face yet another top-ranked opponent. She will play Germany’s Angelique Kerber, the world number 12 and former number one. Kerber leads the head-to-head 1-0, having won the only meeting between the two players in 2016 in Hong Kong. The winner of this match will face either world number four and defending champion Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, or world number 13 Daria Kasatkina of Russia, in the quarterfinals.
Sakkari, currently at a career-high ranking of 42, is set to move up to a new career-high after her strong showing in Rome. With a loss against Kerber, she will rise to either 38 or 39 (depending on other results). With a win, she would inch closer to the top 30 and secure a seeding for the French Open, which begins at the end of the month.
Also competing in Rome was Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek teenager won two qualifying matches to make it into the main draw, where he defeated Croatian youngster Borna Coric in the first round. In the second round, Tsitsipas fell to world number six Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, in straight sets.
by Andrew Stamas
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