Greece’s Michaela Laki acknowledged the level of inspiration provided by compatriots Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari after powering into the second round at the Australian Open Junior Championships.
Despite making her Australian Open debut, Laki appeared nerveless as she navigated a first-set tiebreak before she triumphed over Switzerland’s Chelsea Fontenel 76(3) 60 in her tournament opening round.
The 16-year-old was on the court at the same time as Tsitsipas – a person she admires immensely – was continuing his own march towards the business end of the men’s draw with a 4-set victory over Frenchman Benoit Paire.
At the conclusion of her match, Laki immediately headed to Rod Laver Arena to catch a glimpse of Tsitsipas in action as he made it through to the round of 16 at a Grand Slam for the seventh time.
Those are statistics that Laki would dearly love to mirror as her career progresses, and with two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Sakkari making moves in the women’s game, she certainly has a couple of national treasures as role models and symbols of national pride.
“For any Greek athlete, Stefanos and Maria are a great inspiration,” Laki told itftennis.com in an interview.
“They motivate us to play our best and reach our goals. They also make us feel like we can do the same as them. Being at the same tournament as them is very special and it motivates me to play my best and be like them.
“Whenever I see Stefanos or Maria, we always speak. They always wish us good luck and they are great personalities on and off the court. I really want them to win the men’s and women’s tournaments here, that would be special.
“I was very excited watching Stefanos play after my match and I was shouting, ‘Vamos, Stef’, ‘Vamos, Stef’, and I do the same with Maria also. I am always super-excited whenever I watch them play and I really love the way they play.
“When I started playing tennis, Stefanos and Maria didn’t play such big tournaments, and Greece didn’t have so many good players, except for Elena Daniilidou, and I always used to look up to Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
“Now, Stefanos and Maria are a great inspiration and not just for me, for every Greek athlete. I know the path is hard, but I am willing to do everything I can to get to their level.”
Neither Tsitsipas nor Sakkari won a Junior Grand Slam during their fledgling careers, while Laki, who is seeded No. 6 in the girls’ draw, is now five victories away from securing her first title.
Should that be achieved, perhaps she will be afforded a similar accolade to Tsitsipas when he reached his first Grand Slam semi-final here in 2019: a Melbourne restaurant named souvlaki in his honour. That is a discussion for the future, but the early signs are that her name is starting to resonate.
“I really like the atmosphere here,” said Laki, who faces Great Britain’s Ranah Akua Stoiber in the second round.
“Melbourne has a huge Greek community, and I was very excited to come and experience that. There were a lot of Greeks outside the court supporting me, which was great.
Next up For Laki, she plays Stoiber today at court 6 lets all go support her.