Sakkari strikes for sharp start

 - Alex Sharp

The Roland-Garros 2021 semi-finalist brought her top-five tennis to quell the danger posed by Clara Burel.

Maria Sakkari, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Fourth seed Maria Sakkari’s title tilt is up and running at her “happy place”, courtesy of a 6-2, 6-3 triumph over home charge Clara Burel.

The Greek returned to Court Philippe-Chatrier, the scene where the 26-year-old suffered heartbreak with a semi-final defeat from match point up last year.

However, there was no such drama on Sunday, Sakkari managing to patiently claim the vital points to book a second round encounter with Karolina Muchova.

Story of the match

A delicate drop shot on the very first point and a booming “come on” following an early hold; Sakkari was pumped up for the occasion from the very start.

The world No.3 was adapting to deceptively breezy conditions and applied the pressure with a hooked forehand drive volley.

A loose game from the former junior world No.1 enabled Sakkari to surge 3-1 ahead, before Burel’s retrieval skills earned a break back. That inspired the home crowd to launch into spirited renditions of ‘Clara’ chants.

A monstrous inside-in forehand darting into the corner gained the initiative back for Sakkari, the opening set scoreline harsh on Burel’s part in the play.

The French youngster was undeterred, striking with conviction and prevailing in a series of reaction net exchanges for an instant break lead.

Sakkari slowly but surely found the answers, utilising her greater force to open up the court.

Key stats

It was clear the Greek wanted to dictate from the very first strikes, launching 24 winners up against 29 unforced errors.

Sakkari might have preferred to be slightly more ruthless with five of 13 break points converted, but it is encouraging for the fourth seed to open the door so frequently. 

The smooth transition play from Sakkari was also a big plus, earning 70 per cent success at the net with 16 points taken from a possible 23.

Clara Burel, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

What the players said

Maria Sakkari: “It is my favourite tournament, my favourite court in the world. I have great memories from last year.

“I know 99.9 per cent were supporting Clara, which is normal, but this atmosphere is something amazing. I’m very glad we are back to normal and I can witness this atmosphere on Court Philippe-Chatrier.”

Well within the talk of contenders, Sakkari reflected on heading to Paris as a top-five talent and the impact that has back home.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe. Some girls breakthrough at the age of 18, 19, 20. My breakthrough year was last year. I’m very proud of myself, I know my team is also very proud and my country too," added the 26-year-old.

“Greek people love each other, we love our country, so for me it’s something amazing that I can travel the world and play for them.”

Sakkari has split two meetings with world No.81 Muchova, the Czech prevailing most recently in a three-set cracker at Madrid 2021.

"I think she was injured for a while, so she was out. Especially in Grand Slams, she has been having amazing results. I know it's one of the toughest second rounds that I could have faced," said Sakkari.

"She's a very tricky player, because she has variety in her game. But, I think that my game is going to be even better for the next match. I trust my abilities and my game overall. So I think I'm just going to go out there and enjoy one more day here at Roland-Garros."