And the crowd goes wild for Maria Sakkari!!
“O Po Po Maria, O Po Po Maria, O Po Po Maria s’agapo” (Ο πω πω πω Mαρία, Ο πω πω πω Mαρία, Ο πω πω πω Mαρία σ' αγαπώ) the crowd screams and dances.
Top Greek tennis player Maria Sakkari is THE one to watch! She has steadily risen up the ranks on the women’s tour over the last three years and her play shows everyone around the world how hard she is constantly working to fulfil her dream of winning more titles.
Sakkari made her career Grand Slam debut at the US Open in 2015. A year later she broke into the world’s top 100, top 50 in 2017 and the top 30 in 2018.
Tennis may not have firm roots in Greece, but the same cannot be said of Sakkari’s family. Her grandfather played in the Davis Cup and her mother, Angeliki Kanellopoulou, reached a career-high position of No 43 in the world.
At the age of 6, Sakkari remembers picking up a tennis racket for the first time: “I remember I was quite young, I played tennis for the first time when I was 6 years old because my parents introduced me to it. My mum is an ex-professional tennis player who made it to the top 50 in the world, so it has always been in my family which is nice."
“For me tennis was always my passion, especially because my mum was a player, it really made me believe that I could pursue tennis to one day be my job. So when I was growing up I was always working as hard as I could in training with the vision to one day compete as a professional.”
Last year, in 2020, Sakkari pulled off one of the biggest wins in her blossoming career, defeating one of her favourite players growing up, Serena Williams, in three sets.
"It was definitely a bit surreal, she’s a player you watch growing up and idolise for being one of the best players of all time. So stepping on to a match court to play her was definitely a childhood dream of mine, then to win the match it was just crazy and it showed me that all the hard work I was putting into practice everyday is paying off. Although, this is only just one tennis match and I know I need to continue working hard in order to have the chance to win more titles as that is my bigger goal.”
When ‘Sakkattack' is on court, a mix of things run through her mind. “Usually I am focusing on playing the game I want to play in order to put my best level out on the court to give me the best chance of winning the match.”
But her biggest weapon (a warning to all her opponents) is her serve! She's worked on it a lot in practice and she is now able to use it as a big strength within her game.
Her fastest serve… Sakkari guesses is around 120mph.
We must also mention that Sakkari served the sixth most aces of any player in 2020, with 144 aces served in 31 matches.
“I’ve learnt a lot since first starting on the professional tour, I’d say just to trust the process and always keep at it. In tennis it can be easy to doubt yourself as there are so many matches and tournaments so it can be hard to keep a good rhythm or winning streak. I’d say keep working on the basics and stay hungry.”
Sakkari’s favourite memory, well that's a hard question as she has a few: “But a really special one for me was definitely winning my first career title in Rabat, you work so hard everyday on the court for moments like this, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.”
On her road to the final at the 2019 Morocco Open held in Rabat, she defeated Olga Danilović, Isabella Shinikova, Elise Mertens, Alison Van Uytvanck, and then, in the final, she defeated Johanna Konta.
After winning the title, she climbed to World No. 39.
Earlier this year, Sakkari competed in the 2021 Australian Open, which started with a bit of a hiccup. As she was on the airplane with a covid-19 positive case, she was deemed a close contact and mandated to 14 days of strict hotel quarantine. That also meant that she was unable to leave her room to train.
But that didn't affect Greece's tennis star. She kept busy by training, reading and talking to friends and family back home and in Australia. “I focused on keeping a positive mindset, for sure it’s not easy to stay inside one room for 14 days but we were so lucky to have the chance to even go to Australia to play.”
“Most days I exercised a lot in my room, I needed to stay fit and ready to go straight into the tournaments once quarantined finished. Otherwise I kept busy by talking to my friends and family on FaceTime, I also did a live workout with Chris Hemsworth’s fitness trainer Luck Zocchi! This was really cool and really fun, so I actually found quarantine ok, I managed to keep active and keep busy.”
During this time, she also created *drum roll please*…. ‘Sparring With A Spartan’, a series of workouts which everyone can do and include some of the exercises Sakkari uses in her fitness routines in order to stay strong and match fit.
“I love to workout, and I think that’s a nice thing to share with people. All athletes train differently so I thought it could be a cool idea to share workouts that I do to keep fit and strong for my sport, also simple exercises without any equipment so that anyone who follows me can get involved and join in. As for the name, I am from Greece and am very proud of my heritage, we are a nation of passionate people with history of being warriors, so we thought it would be nice to make a name that links to that.”
There’s no words to describe the electrifying atmosphere during any of Sakkari’s games. They are all unique and one of a kind. One moment you are on the edge of the seat, and the next you are jumping up and down.
The Greek Australian community loves Sakkari, just as much as she loves them.
“This is something really special for me. I love the Greek fans who come to watch me in Australia, they create such a great atmosphere and it definitely inspires me on the court. I love my country, we are very proud of our heritage so when I see fans from Greece coming to watch my matches it is really something special and I am so grateful for their support!”
Maria Sakkari is adored by children and adults alike, for her grounded personality and will to fight on the court as if her life depended on it.
One important lesson life has taught the young Greek star, is to never give up.
“This especially applies to tennis, there can be matches where you are one point away from losing and you win the match, it’s a special sport in terms of that, and I think it can teach you so many life lessons. Also if you lose, there is always another chance the following week for you to have the opportunity to compete again.”
Maria Sakkari is one of the biggest role models in not just tennis, but the sporting world overall.
We know the Greek powerhouse will earn her spot inside the top ten in women’s tennis in the near future.