History for Greece and Sakkari in Paris

The No.17 seed becomes the first Greek woman to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam in the Open Era

Maria Sakkari, Roland-Garros 2021, fourth round© Philippe Montigny/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Maria Sakkari has been knocking on the door at the Grand Slams for a long time. On a sunny Monday afternoon on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, she kicked it down. 

Sakkari, making her 21st appearance in a Grand Slam main draw, rumbled past 2020 Roland-Garros runner-up Sofia Kenin 6-1, 6-3 in 68 minutes to become the first Greek woman to reach a Grand-Slam quarter-final in the Open Era.

"I knew it was going to come," she told reporters after making history for her country. "I didn't know when. But I think that I've been playing very good tennis, especially this year, and I don't see why [I can't go] further, as well."

Her takedown of the No.4 seed leaves just one top-10 women's seed standing in the women’s singles draw: 2020 champion Iga Swiatek, seeded eighth, who Sakkari could potentially face next. 

No matter who Sakkari ends up facing in her first major quarter-final, she'll come in buoyed by self-belief, which she partially attributes to her three-set victory over Elise Mertens in round three.

"Especially after winning that match against Elise, playing the way I did, I think it was an extremely high-level match, that gave me so much confidence that I can do it again and again and again," she said.

Sakkari is a tenacious force of nature who wears her heart on her sleeve, sometimes to her own detriment - but not so much this week in Paris. 

“I’m actually enjoying myself,” a smiling Sakkari told the crowd after her triumph. “That’s the most important thing. I enjoy my time on court and I’m actually not torturing myself when I’m on court.” 

After years of steady progress, Sakkari may have stumbled into a way to accelerate her ascent in recent weeks. The Athens native told reporters on Saturday that she recently set her watch to Island time to decompress after a rough patch on the clay.

“After Rome I was very sick of tennis for a few days,” she said, referring to a key decision made after a three-set loss to American Coco Gauff in the second round in Rome. “I just took a few days off, and I just felt like the love of the game again.” 

When she was done kicking back, Sakkari said she messaged her coach, Tom Hill, to notify him that she was ready to kick into high gear. 

“I just took five days off,” Sakkari said. “Went to an island. Just chilled there. Did nothing. Then I just messaged Tom 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.’” 

Maria Sakkari, Roland-Garros 2021, fourth round© Clèment Mahoudeau/FFT

The break has done wonders for her tennis.

The Greek has been a force at Roland-Garros, toppling top-15 seeds in consecutive matches for the first time at a Grand Slam. On Monday she was assertive from the start as she seized every opportunity to put Kenin on the back foot. 

Sakkari admitted after the match that things were different for her. Finding herself stressed before going on Court Suzanne-Lenglen she gave herself the perfect pep talk.

"Just have fun," she told herself.

"I was stressed before the match," she said. "I was nervous because it's a tennis match, so I want to win. But then on the other hand, I told myself, just go out there and enjoy. I know it sounds very calm and easy thing to do, but that's actually one of the few times I've told myself to enjoy a match. "

The world No.18 cracked 19 winners against 15 unforced errors and won 84 per cent of her first-serve points. When faced with a pushback from Kenin, who saved a match point on serve at 1-5 in the second set then broke to close to 3-5, Sakkari ratcheted up her intensity and broke for the fourth time to lock up the milestone.

"I just trusted my game and I went for it, and it worked," she concluded.