Day 7 diary: Sakkari rides wave of island refresh

 - Alex Sharp

Check out the storylines you might have missed from around the grounds in Paris.

Maria Sakkari, Roland Garros 2021, third round© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT

The glorious sunshine brightened up proceedings in Paris on Saturday.

The tennis matched the weather, providing sparkling storylines and thrilling encounters. Here is what you may have missed around the grounds.

Sakkari switch-off for essential reboot

Recharging on home soil and disconnecting from the tennis world, Maria Sakkari took a step back prior to heading to Paris.

Spetses was the destination, a “very nice island not far from Athens”.

After five days off, the Greek returned to court reinvigorated and has since propelled herself into a maiden fourth round at Roland-Garros. 

An absorbing 7-5, 6-7(2), 6-2 scoreline toppled No.14 seed Elise Mertens, and earned the 25-year-old a duel with 2020 finalist Sofia Kenin.

“Just chilled there. Did nothing. Then I just messaged [coach] Tom Hill out of nowhere and I'm like, ‘Tom, I'm ready to go back on court. I'm pretty positive that I'm going to do well from now on,’” explained the No.17 seed.

“He actually said, ‘I'm excited that my player is coming back from retirement’. Of course he was joking. So then everything was a lot easier when he came to Greece and we started practising again.”

That light-hearted environment continues to enhance Sakkari’s sense of freedom as she'd felt the need to escape the relentless circuit of tournaments. 

“I was very sick of tennis for a few days,” admitted the world No.18, having suffered a few painful losses on the clay-court swing. 

“Tom really understands, he also sometimes pushes me and tells me that I need time off. It's very, very nice to have a coach that doesn't do the opposite, because sometimes I can be very tough and tell him, ‘No, we need to practise more, maybe we need to do more hours’. So he's kind of relaxed. I'm going to programme everything the right way, and give myself always time off and always time to disconnect.”

Maria Sakkari, Roland Garros 2021, third round© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT

Musetti calls the shots

Italian teenage sensation Lorenzo Musetti is causing quite the stir on his Grand Slam debut.

The 19-year-old navigated past compatriot Marco Cecchinato in five sets, the vocal crowd spellbound by Musetti's repertoire.

The world No.76, who booked a second week bout with top seed Novak Djokovic, struck behind-the-back winners and obviously earned ‘Shots of the day’. Watch the video below – you won't be disappointed.

“Today was maybe two of my best shots ever," he admits. "I think especially the first one, because was unexpected. I had a laugh about it, because I wanted to do it, but if I try like 10 times probably, I won’t do it like either one time. It's sort of lucky and the magic, I don't know how to call it, but was fun.”

Swiatek rocks and Thiem K-pops! 

There was a very tough ‘Fans 2 players’ question for reigning champion Iga Swiatek.

The Pole was asked by Zoe from Copenhagen: “You have backstage passes for either Red Hot Chilli Peppers, AC/DC or Pink Floyd. Which would it be?”

Swiatek, into the last 16 to tackle Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk, is renowned for her penchant for rock music.

“Oh my God… I would say Pink Floyd. They were the first rock band, after Coldplay, that I listened to," she responded.

“I think that they have a great legacy. Their albums have a really deep meaning and I would like to talk to them about that.”

Who knew Dominic Thiem was into K-pop? What’s Ashleigh Barty’s karaoke go-to? Find out below.

Crowd favourite Schwartzman

As the sporting world edges back towards normality, crowd moments bring pure joy to all of us watching.

Diego Schwartzman, who dismissed Philipp Kohlschreiber in straight sets, was cheered on by ardent support on Court Suzanne-Lenglen and the chanting continued into his on-court interview.

Paris officially loves Diego.

Kostyuk already offering advice

World No.81 Kostyuk has already represented Ukraine, won a junior Grand Slam and enjoyed major moves. 

“For my age I have pretty long career. I've been through many things in the last couple years, and I don't feel like I'm the one who's like veteran, but I honestly don't feel myself as this young little girl anymore that is just an underdog everywhere,” stated the 18-year-old, happy to pass on her wisdom.

“For example, [Maria] Camila Osorio Serrano, she passed the quallies here and she lost the first round to Madison Brengle, and I saw the coach and I asked, ‘How was it?’ and he said she put a lot of pressure on her. I said, ‘Listen, it's going to be okay. Like she's going to be fine. She's going to go over it. It's going to pass’.

“It's something that you learn throughout the tries, kind of throughout the Slams or just throughout the tournaments, and I'm glad I'm very young but already know what it feels like.”

Marta Kostyuk, Roland Garros 2021, third round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Hewett plays match of his life

Reigning men’s wheelchair champion Alfie Hewett made a big claim on Saturday.

“I'll never forget this. I think for me this was the match of my life. So far,” said the Brit.

Hewett has every reason to be elated, as he reeled in Gustavo Fernandez from 1-5 down in the decider, and saved three match points to prevail 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(6).

“To play the No.2 seed who is in form, lost to him quite convincingly last week in the warm-up tournament. To come here and the expectation to get past him and the way I did it, as well,” continued the ecstatic 23-year-old.

“Mentally probably the strongest performance. I know there is still many more matches hopefully to play, but for me right now that's the best comeback, best victory, and just to show what I'm about as a player.”

Memories give Sloane a spring in her step

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens is building some serious momentum in Paris.

The 2018 finalist continues to channel her form of three years ago, most recently with a straight-sets triumph over Karolina Muchova.

Obviously 2018 was a great year, but I think even before that I think my first big fourth round or whatever at a slam was here [2012],” said the American, who into the second week for a seventh time.

“Consistently making fourth round here has been kind of a staple for me, which has been great. Obviously one of my favourite tournaments of the year, so peaking here has always been really important. 2018, but I think just the consistency of always doing well here has always brought back good memories.”

Mentality the key for Jabeur

Early exit memories are fading for Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who has reached at least the third round in her last six majors.

“I was more consistent first rounds [exits] before, but I'm trying to change it up a little bit,” quipped the 26-year-old.

“The mentality changed. I was doing everything that I can to be in the second week. I hate winning first round or second round or third round, so I'm just doing my best to go further more and more, and I like to be consistent, and that's what I'm doing.

“I think the hard work is paying off in every way. I'm telling you, in every way, either mentally, physically or on the court. I think we are doing a great job right now."

Ons Jabeur Roland-Garros 2021©Cédric Lecocq / FFT