Krejcikova v Sakkari: Where the match can be won

 - Chris Oddo

Join us on this tactical deep dive into Thursday's second women's semi-final

Greek Maria Sakkari and Czech Barbora Krejcikova are in uncharted territory as Grand Slam singles semi-final debutantes and on Thursday, one of them will reach their first major final at Roland-Garros. 

Here is a tactical breakdown of the keys areas where the match can be won.

Sakkari's serve

The serve made the difference again on Wednesday for Sakkari in Paris, as she put forth another impressive effort from the service stripe on Wednesday to end the winning streak of defending champion Iga Swiatek

It also promises to give her an advantage against Krejcikova, if she can execute at the level she has produced through her first five rounds. 

Sakkari leads all remaining players in aces (26) and first-serve points won (77 per cent). She will need to keep those numbers high because Krejcikova is serving almost as well (both players have holding serve 82 per cent of the time).

Sakkari talked about the evolution of her serve after her fourth-round win over Sofia Kenin. The hard work has paid dividends, she said.

“I've worked a lot on my serve,” she said. “It's a thing that I usually spend for sure 20, 30 minutes a day on, sometimes even more. 

“I think it's a shot that because many of the girls are big and tall and I don't have the advantage of that, I just try to find ways where I can create a weapon, and I think we achieved that. You know, now I trust my serve. I know it's a weapon. I have a lot of variety, which is great, as well. It's a big advantage.” 

Krejcikova's composure

Now that she is through to her first major semi-final, are the worst of the nerves behind Krejcikova? Playing poised, confident tennis, the Czech was able to save five set points and defeat American Coco Gauff in straight sets in the quarter-finals. She showed a champion’s mentality in the opening set, producing some bold shot-making to turn the match around. 

Krejcikova admitted she was lacking in self-belief before her fourth-round match against Sloane Stephens, but seems to have made peace in her mind. 

“I was just like, ‘Oh, my God, what if I'm going to lose 0, 0? It would be a disaster,’ stuff like this,” Krejcikova confessed, referring to her match against the former runner-up in the fourth round. 

The 25-year-old Czech said she felt much better against Gauff in Wednesday’s quarter-finals. If she is going to unlock her achievement in the semis, she will need a clear, confident head to do it.

“I was just super relaxed and I didn't have these feelings again,” she said. “You have to just go and you have to try to overcome this somehow. For me, it was helpful to actually talk to my psychologist and just talk about it, just have some good words from her because she knows.”

Keeping things simple

Krejcikova and Sakkari will look to cancel each other’s strengths by stepping up to the line and being assertive.

In truth, both have done a remarkable job in that category. The outcome of this match will likely come down to who can execute bold strikes while at the same time maintaining a baseline level of consistency. If both serve well, and a baseline battle ensues, the first player to aggressively pull the trigger on the forehand side stands to gain the advantage. 

For Sakkari, self-discovery has been a big part of her success. Rather than focus too much on disturbing Krejcikova, she will be better served by executing what she does well. Serve and return to dictate, pounce on opportunities to hit the forehand, and don't overthink. 

Maria Sakkari, women's singles, 1/4 F© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Each player has only been to net, on average, about 10 times per match. Could that element make a difference?

Sakkari's coach, Tom Hill, said his charge simply needed to focus on her own game to have success. It was about playing to her strengths, he said.

“I would say the biggest thing that I have noticed with Maria is more the understanding of her game - just what shots she needs to hit in what moments,” Hill said. “Understanding what she does well, trying to focus more on how she can play to her strengths, less than what she can do to make her opponent feel uncomfortable, which sounds a little bit crazy, but if you focus too much on what your opponent doesn't like, and then you end up not playing the shots that you like, it can cause problems.”