Gym-loving Sakkari in perfect shape for French Open semi-final bow

·3-min read
Gym-loving Maria Sakkari

Maria Sakkari hailed the countless hours she has sweated in the gym, building up her distinctive physique, for helping propel her into a maiden Grand Slam semi-final at the French Open.

The 25-year-old defeated defending champion Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-4, becoming the first Greek woman to reach the last-four at the majors.

"Well, thank you so much for the compliment, first of all," Sakkari told a reporter who had described her as having a "great physique".

"To be honest, it's not like I do a lot of track and field training. I run a lot. I lift a lot. A bit of everything, I would say.

"But I've been working with my fitness coach since I was 14. I think he has done a very, very good job with me.

"It's one thing I really like to do. I actually like to spend time in the gym. I'm really enjoying it. I guess it's good for my tennis, as well."

In a topsy-turvy women's tournament, world number 18 Sakkari finds herself as the highest-ranking semi-finalist this year.

On Thursday, she will face unseeded Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic while Russian 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova tackles world number 85 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia.

Sakkari has made steady rather than spectacular progress in her career after making her debut at the Slams in 2015.

Ranked at 188 at the end of that year, she has been on an upward curve ever since, breaking the top 100 in 2016, top 50 in 2018 before finishing 2020 at 22 in the world.

- 'Not real rankings' -

But it wasn't until her 21st major in Paris that she made her first quarter-final, knocking out fourth seed and 2020 runner-up Sofia Kenin before ending eighth-seeded Swiatek's title defence on Wednesday.

That was her first win over a top 10 player at a Slam.

"I thought about it a lot of times that maybe that was my ceiling and I could not get any higher in the rankings," said Sakkari of her early career doubts.

"But this year I proved to myself that I'm actually playing really good. I beat a lot of very good players. Probably also I had the right people around me saying that I can do it gave me a lot of confidence in achieving that."

Miami was a breakthrough moment, reaching the semi-finals having knocked out world number two Naomi Osaka on the way.

She had already beaten fourth-ranked Kenin in Abu Dhabi this year as well as Belinda Bencic and Elina Svitolina in 2020.

While eyebrows have been raised at the surprising make-up of the semi-finals this year, Sakkari said she is not shocked at all.

"I think all of us, the four semi-finalists, have been playing really good this year. It's a little bit unfortunate the way the rankings still work, that there are some tournaments saved," said Sakkari in reference to a ranking system frozen by the effects of the pandemic.

"You cannot really see what is the real ranking. So I think that's why it's a surprise for everyone. But Nastia, she played really well in Madrid. Barbora won Strasbourg last week."

Sakkari is the second Greek in the semi-finals of the singles at this year's French Open after Stefanos Tsitsipas made the men's last four.

On Wednesday, Swiatek carved a break for 2-0 in the first set before the Greek quickly levelled, breaking again for a 5-4 lead.

Sakkari confidently pocketed the opener, ending the champion's run of 22 straight sets won at the tournament.

When Swiatek slipped 0-2 down in the second set, she left the court for a medical timeout, returning with her right thigh tightly strapped.

Swiatek had to battle to avoid going a double break down in the fifth game but eventually succumbed in the 10th.