Guadalajara: Sakkari's resilience finally rewarded

 - Reem Abulleil

Greek ends four-plus year title drought with Guadalajara triumph

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

The camera zoomed in on a tearful Maria Sakkari, crouched down on centre court in Guadalajara, her head leaning on the butt cap of her racquet, as she let emotions take over and the moment sink in.

After almost four and a half years of waiting, the Greek warrior was a champion again, clinching the second WTA title of her career, and first at the 1000-level, with victory over Caroline Dolehide 7-5, 6-3 in the Guadalajara final on Saturday.

During her trophy drought, Sakkari played and lost six finals. Also since her previous title run in Rabat in April 2019, the former world No.3 fell at the semi-final stage on 20 occasions.

She had been well aware of these stats and even poked fun at her sub-par record in those matches on social media.

But despite having a sense of humour about it, things got tough for Sakkari last month at the US Open when she suffered a third consecutive Grand Slam opening-round defeat. She broke down in tears in a small interview room at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, and contemplated taking a break from tennis.

Four weeks later, she donned a sombrero, trophy in hand, and was celebrating a statement week in front of thousands of adoring fans in Guadalajara. Her resilience was finally rewarded.

“I want to thank my coach Tom (Hill) who has been with me the last five years. We've waited for more than four years for a second title,” Sakkari said during the trophy ceremony.

“We've heard so many bad things that I will never win a title, that I'm a top-five player but with only one winning title, that was very hard for me to overcome and I’m so happy I did it here this week.”

During her run in Mexico, Sakkari did not drop a set en route to the title, with wins over Storm Hunter, Camila Giorgi, Emiliana Arango and Caroline Garcia, before her final success against Dolehide.

In her Champions Corner interview with WTA Insider, Sakkari said the words of recent US Open champion Coco Gauff, about keeping things in perspective when it comes to handling tough moments in tennis, really resonated with her and helped her banish her demons over the past few weeks.

“I really liked what Coco [Gauff] said at the US Open, about how other people have bigger problems than we have when we lose a tennis match, and she's spot on. I kept thinking about that, and that gave me strength,” said Sakkari.

Coco Gauff & Maria Sakkari / Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

In one of her press conferences at the US Open, Gauff spoke about her approach to dealing with pressure and her wise statements have since gone viral and struck a chord with many players, not just Sakkari.

“I realise in a way it's pressure but it's not. I mean, there are people struggling to feed their families, people who don't know where their next meal is going to come from, people who have to pay their bills,” said the 19-year-old Gauff.

“That's real pressure, that's real hardship, that's real life. I’m in a very privileged position, I'm getting paid to do what I love and getting support to do what I love. That's something that I don't take for granted.”

Sakkari’s maiden WTA 1000 trophy has moved her up to No.9 in the Race to the WTA Finals in Cancun, and she has a shot for making it to the elite top-eight season-ending championships for a third straight year.

“Hopefully I can make the Finals, but even if I don't, this week has been a huge win for me. If I qualify for the Finals, amazing. If I don't, I'll have a longer break. That's how I see it right now. It's not something I'm obsessed with,” she told WTA Insider.

Sakkari will have little time to celebrate as she hopped on a plane from Guadalajara to Tokyo, where she has a bye in the first round and awaits Misaki Doi or Petra Martic in round two.

Meanwhile, Dolehide, who had a huge week in Guadalajara with wins over Sofia Kenin and Martina Trevisan, has rocketed up the rankings from 111 to 42 in the world - a career-high for the 25-year-old American.

First title for Wang Xiyu

Over in Guangzhou, 22-year-old Wang Xiyu lifted the first WTA trophy of her career thanks to a dominant 6-0, 6-2 performance against Poland’s Madga Linette in the final.

Entering the week at No.88 in the world, the talented lefty and former US Open junior champion dropped just one set on her way to the title to become the fifth Chinese woman to win the Guangzhou Open.

“It was very exciting and it's a very emotional moment because to play in this tournament, every player is really tough,” said Wang, who claimed wins over the likes of Nadia Podoroska and Greet Minnen en route to the final.

“It's so difficult to be here on the last day. I'm very happy to be here and I think I cannot say it because it's very emotional.”

Wang, who cracked the top 50 for the first time in January this year, has moved back up to No.58 in the world as a result of her triumph in Guangzhou.