In the latest instalment of Players’ Voice, 26-year-old Maria Sakkari reflects on her standout year, the importance of the milestones she’s hit, and how she thinks she was able to achieve them.
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Reaching my first two Grand Slam semi-finals in one season has been incredible and ending the season in Guadalajara at the WTA Finals really was a dream come true. But it did not happen by mistake...
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Before this year, I would say that sometimes I was a little too hard and negative on myself. This season, with the help of surrounding myself with the right people, I’ve concentrated on making my mindset much more positive by manifesting kinder thoughts. I think my results have benefited from that, so I would definitely say that being nice to yourself is always a good idea.
That is what we’ve mostly been focussing on and adjusting my attitude has definitely led to gradual improvement, but there was one particular moment at Roland Garros that I think was the big turning point - not just in my season but also in my career. I remember feeling good with my game in Paris, but my match against Elise Mertens was key. It was probably one of the best of my season and winning it gave me a lot of confidence.

Maria Sakkari defeats 14th seed Elise Mertens 7-5, 6-7(2), 6-2 in the third round of Roland-Garros

Image credit: Getty Images

That was a big part of my journey in Paris and obviously, the semi-final itself was a huge moment of my career so far. I had a match point before falling to Barbora [Krejcikova] so obviously, it didn’t quite go my way. It still hurts to think about it now. But, it’s a learning experience and something that can make me even better and stronger. Ultimately, it can happen to everyone and it’s not something unusual. If anything, it means I’m prepared for the next time when I’ll have that chance in my hands again.

Maria Sakkari exits Roland-Garros after a 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 semi-final epic with eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova

Image credit: Getty Images

I know my coach, Tom Hill, has said that he wants me to become a little more arrogant… I think by this, he just means that I need to believe in myself more, which is true. I think my two Grand Slam semi-finals show that I’m doing the right things and of course, having these results helps a lot in terms of finding that self-belief and realising what I’m actually capable of achieving.
I’m also working with a mental coach who really knows me and we’re focussing on finding ways I can build my confidence away from the court so I’m not just relying on my results. Having this balance is really helping and I’m in the process of becoming a little better every day.
My ranking is a reflection of that - I broke into the Top 10 when I was 26 and I think having a breakthrough at this age requires having a different sort of mentality. When you are young and at the early stages of your career, you’re fearless - you don’t think and you just play. At 26, you are a lot more mature, a lot more aware and you have to handle things differently. So that’s why this milestone felt even more special for me. Of course, being the first Greek female tennis player to ever achieve this made it even better. It’s a big thing for myself, my family and my country, and with Stefanos [Tsitsipas] in the Top 10 for guys too, it’s just a very nice thing for Greece.
Growing up in Greece, we didn’t have many tennis players so it wasn’t that easy to replicate a pathway to the top. However, having my mum as a former tennis player was something that really inspired me and it made me believe that I could achieve my goals. She’s been by my side since I started playing tennis when I was six years old, which has helped a lot and I owe a lot to her in terms of getting me to where I am right now.

Maria Sakkari’s mum, Angeliki Kanellopoulou, is a former Greek professional tennis player who reached a career-high of world No.43

Image credit: Getty Images

During the off-season, my plan is simply to rest and basically do nothing! I don’t want to travel anywhere - I just want to take this opportunity to rest and then plan my next season. I don’t have specific goals in mind because this year has shown me that anything is possible. Becoming a better version of my existing self is probably my biggest intention.
Follow Maria Sakkari on Instagram (@mariasakkari) and Twitter (@mariasakkari).
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