Sakkari Saves 6 Match Points, Wins Big In Miami

Maria Sakkari (photo: courtesy WTA video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, March 30, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Maria Sakkari saved six – yes, six! – match points on the way to a very heartfelt and satisfying 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (6) victory over Jessica Pegula that earned her a well-deserved quarterfinal berth in the Miami Open presented by Itaú Monday evening.

During a marathon 10th game that lasted 24 points in the third set, trailing 4-5, the 23rd seed from Greece saved the first five match points. Then, Sakkari saved No. 6 in the decisive tiebreak trailing Pegula 6-5 before winning the last three points of the two hour and 38-minute match on Court 1.

The epic 10th game of the final set included nine deuce points and Sakkari rose to the occasion by hitting winner after winner and finally held her serve with a backhand winner that came off of a well-timed drop shot.

Once Sakkari secured match point in her favor, she dropped down to her knees and raised both arms in the air. For the match, Sakkari finished with 47 winners that helped offset her 53 unforced errors. She broke Pegula five times and was outpointed 116-112 by the American from Buffalo, N.Y.

During her virtual press conference an hour after the completion of the match, Sakkari was still beaming a huge smile as she answered questions from the international media. She said: “I think it was one of the toughest matches I have played since the restart last summer. I think Jessica is playing unreal tennis, and as I mentioned on court, she really deserves, you know, the results she has been having.

“She has been playing really, really well, and she’s a very nice girl. That’s the most important thing. So, it was a very good win for me, and I think the level was super high from both of us.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Sakkari how difficult it was to find the mental strength to save six match points and then to win the match on her first opportunity. She said: “I think once you’re in the match, you just don’t think that I saved six match points already. It’s just that one at a time.

“I think I came off with some good shots and clever choices and just worked, and it went my way. You know, maybe next time it’s going to go the other way. This is, you know, tennis. I’m sure you have seen a lot of matches, so, you know, sometimes it goes your way; sometimes it doesn’t.”

Osaka reaches Miami Open quarterfinals for first time

Second seed Naomi Osaka reached her first Miami Open quarterfinal after defeating No. 16 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-3, 6-3, for her 23rd straight victory dating back to last season. Playing in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd – including Osaka’s mother Tamaki – in Monday afternoon’s featured match on the Grandstand court, the World No. 2 from Japan finished off the victory after Mertens netted a return that capped a nine-shot rally.

“It definitely feels very special,” Osaka said during her post-match virtual press conference. “This is one of my favorite tournaments to play, and of course I’m sad I hadn’t been able to get to the second week the last times that i have played this tournament. But I’m here now, and hopefully it will go well this time.”

Osaka finished with 25 winners and 28 unforced errors, and broke Mertens five times in 14 tries. She outpointed her opponent 70-54 and improved her head-to-head against the Belgian to 3-1, which includes three straight victories.

According to the WTA, since 2000, the only other players to achieve winning streaks of 23 matches or more include: Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Justine Henin.

Sorribes Tormo continues to surprise

Unseeded Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, ranked 58th, has now reached the quarterfinals of better in each of her last three tournaments – all this month. First, she won her first WTA tour title in Guadalajara, Mexico, then was a semifinalist the next week in Monterrey, both outdoor hard-court events. Now, she’s into the Miami Open quarterfinals after beating No. 27 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, 6-4, 0-6, 6-1, her third straight Top 30 victory.

Sorribes Tormo’s numbers were modest – 13 winners and 11 unforced errors and paled in comparison to Jabeur’s 44 winners and 29 unforced errors. However, Sorribes Tormo broke Jabeur five times in six tries and regrouped after being bageled in the second set to win going away for the first time against Jabeur.

During her post-match virtual press conference, Sorribes Tormo said: “I think I played, I don’t know if today was the best match of my life, but I think was one of the best matches, for sure. I’m playing the best tennis of my life, this is for sure. I’m playing long, I’m trying to attack more, I’m going more to the net. I feel comfortable. I don’t know. I feel good physically, and I’m just enjoying tennis and just enjoying life. That’s the way I want to continue many, many weeks.”

After securing match point, Sorribes Tormo ran over to share a hug with her coach, Sílvia Soler Espinosa. When Tennis TourTalk asked the No. 58 Spaniard to describe the exchange, Sorribes Tormo said: “I told her, ‘What’s happening? I don’t believe it (smiling). She told me, ‘ Okay, so you’re going to have to believe it because you just won.'”

On Wednesday, Sorribes Tormo will face No. 8 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada, a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 winner over No. 12 seed and recent Dubai champion Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain in two hours and 11 minutes, which completed Monday evening’s play on the Grandstand.

Afterward, Andreescu told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference: “It’s always satisfying getting that three-setter, especially after losing the first set. So to me what I was super happy about that match was how even when I’m down – and I knew this about myself. Even when I’m down I know I can find a way. Most of the time, not all of the time. Most of the time I can always find a way and come back and do really, really well.

“I keep proving that to myself, and it’s really nice to get that under my belt. I felt super, super pumped the whole match, considering everything that’s been happening. I’m just super, super happy.”

Meanwhile, Muguruza shared her point of view in looking back at the loss: “I feel it was like a very tight match. I felt I had many opportunities. I had opportunities in the second set to take the lead. I just didn’t convert them.”

Around the Hard Rock Stadium

• No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the fourth round at Miami for the second straight year with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over Japan’s Kei Nishikori. The Greek rising star hit 32 winners – including 14 forehand – and next will face 24th seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, who defeated Colombia’s Daniel Elahi Galan, 7-6 (6), 6-3. Tsitsipas will be aiming for his first Miami quarterfinal appearance and seventh ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal. Meanwhile, Sonego has reached the fourth round of a Masters 1000 for just the second time.

• Russia’s No. 17 seed Aslan Karatsev, who earlier this month won his first ATP Tour-level title at Dubai, was eliminated by NextGenATP rising American star Sebastian Korda, 6-3, 6-0. It was only the third loss of the season for Karatsev and the first time he lost to an opponent ranked outside the Top 5 after previously losing to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 4 Dominic Thiem.

Next, the Florida native Korda will face No. 5 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina in the round of 16. Earlier, Schwartzman defeated Adrian Mannarino of France, 6-1, 6-4, to reach the fourth round for the first time at Miami.

“Diego is going to be a tricky opponent, for sure,” Korda said during his virtual press conference. “Hopefully, I can get some rest and play a good match against him. …

“He’s an incredible player. He’s having a really good year so far … and he’s top 10 in the world.It’s going to be another cool and fun experience for me. Hopefully I can play some really good tennis and kind of just have fun out there.”

Monday’s Miami Open results – WTA

Monday’s Miami Open results – ATP

Tuesday’s Miami Open order of play

Naomi Osaka: On self-improvement

Following World No. 2 Naomi Osaka‘s 6-3, 6-3 fourth-round victory against No. 16 seed Elise Bertens of Belgium, her 23rd consecutive win going back to last season, Tennis TourTalk asked the Japanese superstar what she would say is the one thing she’s improved the most in her game since the WTA tour restart last August:

“For me, I feel like a lot of things. Honestly, I have worked with Wim [Fissette] on a lot of things, but I would say the most important part is I talk to him a lot, and for me my mind is really, really important. So, I would just say I’m mentally stronger coming back from everything.”

Then, in a follow-up question, Tennis TourTalk asked Osaka what’s the one thing she’s still looking to improve upon:

“I feel like tennis is a sport that’s always evolving, and there are constantly like new players and you always have to, I don’t know, have a lot of different strategies.

“So, I think just being able to adapt quicker and, like, have a set strategy that I really have a high win rate with.”

Osaka will face No. 23 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece in the quarterfinal round on Wednesday.

Up close: Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic, have paired together as a championship-caliber doubles team for many years. Following an outstanding junior career in which the duo won the Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open girls’ junior doubles titles and reached the final of the Australian Open in 2013, they went on to win the 2018 French Open and 2018 Wimbledon Championships. Most recently, Krejcikova and Siniakova finished runner-up in this year’s Australian Open.

Additionally, Krejcikova is an accomplished mixed doubles player, having won three consecutive Australian Open titles – two with Rajeev Ram of the United States and the other with Nikola Mektic of Croatia.

In October 2018, Krejcikova and Siniakova jointly were ranked No. 1 in the world. Together, they became the fifth and sixth Czech players to be ranked No. 1 since 1975 and they were the 14th pair to attain the No. 1 world ranking together.

Although Krejcikova, 25, and Siniakova, 24, regularly compete in singles – where Krejcikova recently reached the Dubai final and boosted her ranking to No. 39, while Siniakova is currently ranked 70th – it is on the doubles court where they have achieved the most notoriety and are a formidable duo. Watch them play together and it’s immediately noticeable that the two get along well, always communicating after every point. While Krejcikova is resilient, Siniakova shows a free-spirit kind of quality.

This season, Krejcikova, ranked seventh, and No. 8 Siniakova have reached the quarterfinals or better in each of the four tournaments they’ve played together, including winning the Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne and reaching the finals of the Australian Open. That streak came to an end Sunday evening when they lost to the upstart American duo of Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, 5-7 (5), 6-4, 10-8, in one hour and 42 minutes during a second-round Miami Open match.

On Saturday afternoon, following their first-round 6-1, 6-4 victory over the Dutch pair of Kiki Bertens and Arantxa Rus, the second seeds Krejcikova and Siniakova sat for a solo interview with Tennis TourTalk, in which they discussed their tennis partnership and offered insights into what makes a good doubles player and by extension, a great doubles team.

Tennis TourTalk: What makes a good doubles team?

Krejcikova: “I think for me it’s communication; communication is the key. We know each other since very young as juniors. The Czech language is the key. I feel that we can support each other and also when things aren’t going our way, we can joke around together. It’s easier communicating in our first language than doing it in English. We are different people, too. [Katerina] is different than I am. It fits.”

Siniakova: “It’s really nice that Barbora is still playing with me and we can be such a good team and play really well. I think we know each other really well on the court, we can help each. We are different, but we are good together.”

Krejcikova: “She plays differently than I do. She has different weapons. I have different weapons. We work together very well.”

Siniakova: “We are always trying to improve our skills and our game.”

Tennis TourTalk: What makes your doubles partnership such a formidable one?

Krejcikova: “All the girls know us. They know what to expect, what we are doing. It’s tough because they’re trying to beat us. We are doing well and improving. Hopefully, this year will be a good year for us.”

Siniakova: “When you’re winning titles – especially Grand Slams – it’s impressive and it’s a really nice feeling. You’ll never forgot how nice and amazing it was. We strive to earn another title.”

Tennis TourTalk: What are the challenges of being able to play both singles and doubles in the same tournament well?

Krejcikova: “It’s a new experience for me. So far, it’s going well, both in singles and in doubles. If I have to play two matches in a day, I go and do my best. I just want to win. I’m not thinking if I feel good or don’t feel good, I know if I want to play at this level in singles and doubles, I have to find a way play well, stay healthy and be prepared for every challenge. I was expecting it.”

Tennis TourTalk: Does playing singles make you a better doubles player and vice-versa?

Siniakova: “It can help you.”

Krejcikova: “Playing doubles is different than playing singles. I think the things you are doing – serving and returning – are things you can improve from playing [the other discipline]. On the other hand, I feel it’s two totally different competitions. Sometimes, it’s helping, maybe other times it’s not. When I’m playing too many singles, I’m not feeling good playing doubles.”

Tennis TourTalk: How has the competition in doubles evolved? Is it more difficult now than before when you first started as a team?

Krejcikova: “When I first started, the competition was more about doubles players and not many singles players actually played [doubles]. Now, I feel more singles players are playing. So, it’s more about just playing singles instead of just playing doubles. So, I mean it’s for sure changing and developing. The [doubles] competition is harder. When I first started, doubles players focused just on doubles. Right now, more of the top players [playing doubles] are singles players.”

Tennis TourTalk: What are your goals for this season and do the Olympic Games figure into the big picture?

Siniakova: “Yes, I would like to play the Olympics. It’s quite far [away]. With so many tournaments now, we are just focusing on what’s ahead and we will see how it goes.”

Krejcikova: “For me, the biggest goal is to stay healthy. I think that’s the most important thing. If you can stay healthy and go every single day and improve everything day by day and manage everything really well, that’s going to be the key. The season is long, the matches are tough, the competition traveling from one part of the world to another is difficult. Just stay healthy, try to improve every single day, and let’s see. The Olympics would be nice, it will be something special, but it’s so far away. We have so many good players who can step ahead of us. Who knows? It’s going to change every single week.”

What they’re saying

• Men’s No. 4 seed Andrey Rublev on the rise of Russian men’s tennis: “I hope and I think for Russia is really good, because now the tennis is start[ing] to grow again. Is becoming more popular sport in Russia than it was, like, five years ago, let’s say. Now it’s becoming more like it was when Marat and Kafelnikov [were] playing. So, it’s [a]nice feeling.It’s nice that some kids now they are more interesting, they want to play more by watching us. I hope we can keep going in this way, and I hope we can bring it, maybe, up to the next level. We’ll see.”

• Women’s No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka on the key to generating her own rhythm: “I have always noticed that I’m not the type of player that really needs that many tournaments to feel a groove. In fact, I sort of started feeling like it was the opposite. I would get kind of burned out more quickly if I played more tournaments. So, yeah, I think that’s the reason why I play the schedule that I play now.”

• Men’s World No. 9 Diego Schwartzman was asked following his 6-1, 6-4 third-round victory over Adrian Mannarino to assess Sebastian Korda of the United States, his round of 16 opponent:

“He’s playing very good tennis. I’m watching him and I think he’s similar to Berdych, how he moves, how he hit the ball. I saw him, I really see him very similar to Tomas.

“[Sebi’s] really young, but he’s, you know, putting the step on court and he looks like he’s playing since 10 years already.That’s good for him.

“But I hope to have a good match tomorrow against him. It’s going to be difficult, and I have to play very good tennis to beat him because he’s doing very well this year since the beginning of the year.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

• World No. 8 Aryna Sabalenka on what she was most proud about from her 6-1, 6-2 round of 16 victory against No. 19 seed Marketa Vondrousova: “I’m proud that I was playing every point, doesn’t matter what the score, because [a] couple of times I broke her serve. I have been down in the score love-40 and I came back and got these breaks.

“So, yeah, I’m proud that I was focusing every point no matter what. Wasn’t really following the scoreboard because the score was pretty easy, but I was trying to focus on my movement, on my game plan, and, yeah, it works really well, and this is what I’m proud of.”

• Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova on what she was most proud of from her 6-1, 7-5 victory over No. 338 Ana Konjuh that advanced her to the quarterfinals against No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina: “I think overall my game was really solid. Didn’t make any mistakes, any easy mistakes. Yeah, played aggressive. My forehand was very good. Yeah, managed to hold my serve in the important moments. Yeah, the way I was playing, I could break her any time.”

Maria Sakkari on how important it was to her to be able to have Greek fans cheering for her in Miami: “You know, I have said a lot of times already that for me it’s super important to see. Even if it’s one Greek out there, it makes me happy and it makes me proud.As I said on court, I love playing for my country, and it’s probably the second reason why I play tennis after playing for my family.”