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Sakkari Takes Pleasure Principle To Paris

By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, May 22, 2022

Maria Sakkari aims to apply the pleasure principle to her Paris return.

World No. 4 Sakkari won the final three games in both sets taming Frenchwoman Clara Burel 6-2, 6-3 to win her opener on Court Philippe-Chatrier today.

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On a day in which a pair of Top 10 contenders—sixth-seeded Ons Jabeur and 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza—lost, Sakkari kept calm to move on. Though Sakkari asserts she can lift her level, she was pleased to withstand a tricky stress test against Burel and French fans.

"It's always tough to play first round in a Grand Slam, especially against a local," Sakkari said. "Obviously, as I said on the court, most of the crowd out there was supporting her, and it's kind of normal.

"But I think, you know, I handled my stress really well, handled the stress of the first round extremely well. My tennis maybe was not 10 out of 10, but overall I think I did a great job."

Tension tightened Sakkari after her run to the Indian Wells final last March. The 26-year-old Greek fell in the first round at Miami and Stuttgart and lost in the second round of Madrid.

A run to the Rome quarterfinals helped settle Sakkari, who's approaching this Roland Garros trying to have fun and derive joy from daily tournament life.

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It's a process Sakkari said is aided by her family, friends and team, who try to help keep her relaxed before matches.

The Roland Garros experience has provoked pleasure and pain in Sakkari, who made a breakthrough in Paris last June. Sakkari knocked off 2020 champion Iga Swiatek and 2020 finalist Sofia Kenin and held a match point in the semifinals at 5-3 before bowing to eventual-champion Barbora Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 in a gut-wrenching defeat.

The speedy Sakkari calls Roland Garros "my favorite tournament" and owns the weapons—comprehensive court coverage, a heavy topspin forehand, the ability to kick the serve or strike it flatter down the middle—that can help her make another deep run if she can cope with the pressure of defending those semifinal points.

"It's just, you know, very important to have the right people around you to do things that can distract you," Sakkari said. "But obviously the more experience you get, the easier you can handle this stress.

"But I'm in a phase right now where I just want to enjoy myself on the court, because I did not enjoy myself the last couple of months after Indian Wells. For me, it's very important that I can do that here in my favorite tournament.

"I'm just looking forward to the next match. I'm excited."

That match pits Sakkari against former Australian Open semifinalist Karolina Muchova, who was a 6-3, 6-3 winner over 253rd-ranked Frenchwoman Carole Monnet.

A talented all-court player, Muchova has contested a couple of Wimbledon quarterfinals and made the 2021 Australian Open semifinal. 

"Especially in Grand Slams, she has been having amazing results," Sakkari said of Muchova. "I know it's one of the toughest second rounds that I could have faced, yes. She's a very tricky player, because she has variety in her game.

"But as I said, 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."

Photo credit: Getty