"It was the last event of the year. I'm looking forward to staying here till Sunday," Maria Sakkari laughingly said after her intense match with Ons Jabeur in the third round at Ostrava. Sakkari was feeling optimistic after her successes with Kristyna Pliskova and Elina Svitolina winning over both the exact scores of 6-3, 6-3.
Maria was pushed to elements beyond her limit at times with Ons Jabeur. The Tunisian always had the knack of making her hit one more ball, but the Greek came back with full steam, enough to win over Jabeur. "Ons is a very tricky player.
She makes you run a lot," Sakkari explained. But winning a set was vital and Sakkari's first loss set only provoked her to fight harder. She'd come back and had read the signs of Jabeur's telltale vulnerability.
"I could tell she was down afte she was broken," the Greek explained. She'd realized that timing is important and she pushed in great offense to win the match. She'd book her spot into the semifinal with a steamy strong Victoria Azarenka.
This match would propel Sakkari into the final and rankings raised would see her game level elevate dramatically. There were cross court winners, volleys, down the lines and everything that could have been thrown at Azarenka.
But it didn't work. Sakkari ran out of weapons to throw on the Belarusian of which she made it into her third final of the year in good fashion. But despite Azarenka's ups and downs, she counteracted the effect into her tennis.
Since coming back from nearly six months of tennis absence because of the Pandemic, the Cincinnati Masters was Victoria Azarenka's tune up over what her victories would be on tour. She'd make it to the final and awarded the trophy over Naomi Osaka's walkover.
But Sakkari felt entitled too and within the same Cincinnati event at Flushing Meadows in New York, she felt like a great accomplishment was in the making. She had defeated the 16-year-old Coco Gauff and the iconic Serena Williams getting to the quarterfinals but falling to Johanna Konta.
Sakkari had never played Azarenka before but she might have kept a mental and physical notes on how she can say in ther element and get a victory the next time. The Belarusian beamed with confidence and it showed in her offensive and defensive games she played on Sakkari.
Azarenka wasted no time plowing through the imperfections of the Greek's game and came up with a 6-1 first set win. The second set was looking like a set handed over to Azarenka but Sakkari was down 0-4 and was struggling to win points.
She stepped up her game with mixing shots: rallying, forehands down the line, short shots. She almost tied the score with a 3-4 match but soon ran out of steam and strategies, allowing Azarenka to overpower her. It wasn't long before all the beautiful strokes and shot varieties she'd pull on former opponents wasn't so effective on the Belarusian.
Sakkari had tried many formulas but none would help her win over Azarenka.
It was her ground strokes and serves that plowed into Elina Svitolina's game, but Azarenka was too clever and read the Greek's strategies to win 6-1, 6-3.
Sakkari has come to the end of her abbreviated season but many lessons have been learnt and skills developed. The Greek could not have prevented the Belarusian from overpowering her and called it a done deal with winning over her for this 2020 season.