2021 WTA Tour Players to Watch – Maria Sakkari

Maria Sakkari: A 2021 WTA Player to watch?

Maria Sakkari has fast become a fan favourite on the WTA Tour. One look at her social media feed shows you just how hard she works to improve her game and, as such, it’s little surprise that she has steadily risen up the ranks on the women’s tour over the last two or three years. Her climb to the top has been steady if not rapid, but in 2020 she showed glimpses of the kind of tennis that could earn her a spot inside the top ten in women’s tennis in the near future. The Greek powerhouse appears to be realising her full potential and looks full of confidence in 2021. She is certainly one of the 2021 WTA Tour players to watch, but can Sakkari build on a promising 2020 campaign?

String of steady results brings top 100 debut in 2016

Sakkari made her way into the top 100 on the WTA Tour in a somewhat unconventional fashion. Most players make use of smaller tournaments on the tour in combination with challenger events to get the points needed to climb up the rankings. Very few make their breakthrough in Grand Slams. However, the athletic Greek did just that in 2016. Sakkari made the second round of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2019.

Each of those results earned her 70 ranking points, 10 more than she would earn for a WTA international tournament quarterfinal appearance. She also made one such quarterfinal at the Istanbul Cup. Those results were enough to see Sakkari ranked at #97 in July of 2016. Being inside the top 100 gives players on the tour access to far more main draws without the need to qualify. Sakkari made sure to capitalise on this opportunity with a string of solid results from 2017 to 2019.

Solid three years brings steady rise to top 30

Sakkari continued to perform admirably in Grand Slams in 2017. She made the third round in the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. Somewhat strangely she failed to match that success at WTA tournaments in the first half of the year. Her best result was a quarterfinal appearance at the Nottingham Open. The Athens native failed to qualify for both Indian Wells and the Miami Open despite showing clear hard court ability in her third round appearances at the two hard court Majors. However, in the second half of the season, the slowly rising star started matching her grand slam success with tour level results.

Her first WTA semi-final appearance came at the Wuhan Open in October. This result coupled with her strong run in slams saw Sakkari break into the top 50 for the first time. True to form so far in her young career, the Greek again improved in 2018. Sakkari made two tour level semifinals in 2018. She also made a third round appearance at the Miami Open, Italian Open and French Open. However, her best result of the year was a finals appearance at the Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose.

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This string of strong outings in big tournaments saw the Greek reach #30 in the world. Sakkari firmly established her presence on the tour with two solid seasons of tennis. However, in 2019 she showed the first signs that she could be more than just a consistent performer.

Sakkari won her first WTA Tour title at the Morocco Open in May of 2019, beating former-world #5 and overwhelming favourite Johanna Konta from a set down in the final. She followed up her title win with a second Premier 5 semifinal appearance at the Italian Open. Sakkari then made yet another Grand Slam third round in Wimbledon, a semifinal at the Silicon Valley Classic and a quarterfinal at the Cincinnati Open. This string of solid results in big tournaments meant Sakkari qualified for the WTA Elite Trophy for the first time. Despite losing both matches, she finished 2019 with a career high ranking of #23.  in 2020, Sakkari showed signs she is capable of going further in the biggest tournaments of the year.

Top 20 debut and signs of top 10 potential shown in 2020

A shortened 2020 tennis calendar meant Sakkari had limited opportunities to add a second title to her collection. This is particularly true given the majority of the clay court swing was cancelled. However, an improved hard-court game and a vastly improved serve allowed her to continue her steady climb up the rankings on the women’s tour.

Sakkari made the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time at the start of 2020. The following week she made the semifinal of the St Petersburg Open. These two results saw her achieve a career high ranking of #20 in the 24th of February. This marked her first time inside the top 20 in her career. Sakkari then picked up right where she left off when the tour resumed in September following the suspension due to COVID-19.

She made the quarterfinals at the Cincinnati Open for the first time in September, beating two top 20 players in Johanna Konta and Serena Williams. She followed that up with a strong showing at the US Open the following week, battling through to the fourth round, where she lost to Serena Williams in a repeat of their Cincinnati matchup.

The Greek was arguably the better player on the day, but self-doubt and untimely errors cost her in the third set. Nonetheless, the two strong showings in America showed that she is ready to go further in slams in the future. Another semifinal appearance at the Ostrava Open was Sakkari’s last appearance on the tour in 2020.

The tournaments the Athenian did play in certainly turned the heads of many in the tennis world who had assumed Sakkari would just be a solid but not elite player on the tour. Her performances certainly warrant her inclusion in the 2021 WTA Tour players to watch series. However, the question remains, just how far can she go in 2021 and beyond?

Big titles a possibility in the Greek star’s future?

Sakkari made two fourth round appearances in Grand Slams in 2020. She also made two Premier semifinals and a quarterfinal appearance at the Premier 5 Cincinnati Open. Anyone watching her play last year saw a newfound belief and confidence in her game. She believes she can take on and beat the best in the game and is starting to get the results to support that belief. She may not be a solid pick to win Grand Slams this year, but she is certainly a justifiable dark horse at every one of them.

Whether Sakkari has the game to win one is certainly up for debate. But she just might have what it takes, which surely makes her a worthy inclusion in our 2021 WTA Tour players to watch series. Her strong start to the year in Abu Dhabi shows she is undoubtedly one of the must-watch WTA players in 2021. Indeed, this might just be a year to remember for the Greek.

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