Interview: Sakkari out of the dark and into a blockbuster

The Greek is in a better place in 2023, but her draw is unforgiving

Maria Sakkari, Roland-Garros 2023, practicr© Loïc Wacziak/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Blockbuster first-rounders are not typically the want of top-10 seeds at Roland-Garros, but Maria Sakkari has never been one to shy away from a fight – be it early or late in a Grand Slam. 

She’ll be in for a battle on Sunday, when she faces one of the most dangerous unseeded players in the tournament, Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.

Add in the fact that it was Muchova who bounced Sakkari from the Roland-Garros draw last year, and you have the perfect recipe for a Sunday blockbuster in Paris. 

“We all know that my draw is very tough in the opening round,” Sakkari told on Saturday. “But I’m very confident and very positive.

“You have to beat those players to win the tournament, so if it’s in the first round, second round, third round, it doesn’t really matter – if I can go through that then it’s going to give me a lot of confidence for the next rounds.”


A lot has changed for the Greek in 52 weeks. Last year the Athenian opened up about her mental health struggles, revealing that there were times where she found it difficult to take the court, let alone play elite tennis.

It was a different Sakkari, then seeded fourth, who was taken out in the second round by Muchova, 7-6(5), 7-6(4), in Paris.

“We played last year here, I was in a very dark place, mentally,” Sakkari recalls. “I wasn’t anywhere near compared to how I feel this year, mentally, physically, tennis-wise and everything.” 

2022 was a trying year for Sakkari, who found it hard to shoulder the weight of expectations after putting up a brilliant 2021 that saw her reach two Grand Slam semi-finals and make her long awaited top-10 debut. 

“I was struggling a lot, there were days I didn't want to get out of bed,” she admitted last year at the US Open. 

Cutting a more relaxed figure in the Roland-Garros interview room on Saturday, Sakkari says she’s learned from the tribulations and has come out the other side in a better place.

“There are situations where I might get myself back into but now I know how to get over them, and I just feel like everything in life is a learning lesson,” the 27-year-old said. “At the end of the day life is not just going up. You always have your ups and downs and I just have to accept that and get out of it stronger.” 

Maria Sakkari, Roland-Garros 2023, practice© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Sakkari says having a newfound sense of happiness has helped her preparation for Roland-Garros. 

“Coming here and having those days, compared to how it was last year, it does make a huge difference with my preparation for the tournament,” the 8th-seeded Greek says. “I just remember last year, how it was leading into this tournament, it was just horrible - there are only positives this year.” 

That bubbly philosophy should help her face the challenge of Muchova, the 42nd-ranked Czech who has claimed both tour-level meetings between the pair. 

Muchova’s 2022 campaign was mired by ankle and wrist injuries, but she has hit the ground running in 2023, winning 19 of 26 matches. 

The Czech owns an impressive 18-19 record against the top 20. To say she's dangerous would be an understatement.

“She’s a very good player,” the former world No.3 says of Muchova. “She has taken out a lot of good names in tournaments, she has played close matches with all the top players and she’s probably the toughest unseeded player that anyone could have in the first round.” 

Maria Sakkari, Roland-Garros 2023, practice© Loïc Wacziak/FFT