Sakkari Reaches First 2021 Final At J&T Banka Ostrava Open

Maria Sakkari (photo: Porsche Tennis)

WASHINGTON, September 26, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Poland’s Iga Swiatek hadn’t competed in a semifinal since winning the Rome title in May, while Maria Sakkari of Greece had become a very familiar fixture, reaching the last four six times this season – including two of the four majors. She’s been knocking on the door for quite some time after losing nine consecutive semifinals dating back to 2019. At last, she kicked down the door in Ostrava.

When the two met for the second time this season in the first semifinal of the WTA 500 J&T Banka Ostrava Open Saturday afternoon in the capital city of the Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic, the fourth-seeded Sakkari wasted little time in establishing herself, just like she did earlier this year at Roland Garros. She broke the No. 1 seed Swiatek in the opening game of the match and built upon her momentum over the course of their one-hour and 51-minute match inside Ostravar Arena.

By the end, aided by seven aces and 22 winners, Sakkari was rewarded with a satisfying 6-4, 7-5 triumph over the 2020 French Open champion. The win advanced the Greek rising star into her first final of the year and first title match since 2019. It was her 34th victory of this season.

“You always have to expect that a player like Iga is going to come back, she’s not going to give up,” Sakkari said during an on-court interview following her victory. “I was ready for her to bounce back. She’s one of the best in the world. I was prepared for a tough match, a very tough second set. I always knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

Sakkari won the opening set on the strength of five aces and 13 winners and faced no break points on her serve. Then, she saved a pair of break points in her opening service game of the second set and held serve, which seemed to give her an extra spark. Sakkari broke Swiatek for a second time in the match, in the fifth game, for a 3-2 lead. She consolidated the break, which put her within two games of winning.

However, Swiatek held and broke Sakkari for the first time to level the second set at 4-all. She consolidated the break to push ahead for the first time at 5-4. Suddenly, Sakkari found herself in the unfamiliar position of having to hold serve to stay in the set. She did just that, then broke Swiatek in the 11th game to put the semifinal match on her racquet. Sakkari promptly closed out the victory at love, winning on her first match point after Swiatek hit a forehand wide right that ended a brief four-shot rally. Her seventh Top 10 win this year was in the books.

Sakkari smiled confidently toward her box and raised her clenched right fist in celebration. Come Monday, win or lose, she will become the first Greek woman to reach the WTA Top 10.

Meanwhile, the second semifinal featured No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, always a crowd pleaser in her home country, against Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, ranked 30th. Their rivalry had an air of familiarity and until Saturday, Kvitova had enjoyed a commanding 5-2 advantage.

While their last clash was a three-set quarterfinal win for Kvitova at Doha last March, this time Kontaveit came out firing on all cylinders from the start and won 6-0, 6-4 to advance to her fourth WTA final this season. She broke Kvitova in each of the Czech’s first three service games and took advantage of 16 unforced errors by the two-time Wimbledon champion to win the opening set in a bagel.

Soon, by the end of the 71-minute lop-sided affair, Kontaveit hit 18 winners and made just seven unforced errors while outpointing Kvitova 61-39, thanks to the World No. 10 committing an uncharacteristic 28 unforced errors.

“It’s always really tough playing Petra, especially when she’s at home,” Kontaveit said on court after securing her 30th victory of the season. “I thought I played a really solid match, fighting for everything. I’m very pleased with [the outcome] today.”

With quality wins this week over No. 27 Paula Badosa, No. 3 seed Belinda Bencic (ranked 11th) and now Kvitova, Kontaveit has lifted herself into her ninth career title match after notching her third Top 10 victory of the season to go with previous triumphs over Sofia Kenin in Stuttgart and Bianca Andreescu in Eastbourne. She’s won 11 of her last 12 matches – all on hard courts – which includes a title victory at Tennis in the Land in Cleveland, Ohio.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s title match, Sakkari and Kontaveit have met 10 times with Sakkari owning a 6-4 advantage. Both have been in great form this week. So, what does Kontaveit expect from her friend?

“Definitely a very tough match,” she said. “Maria has been playing amazing. I’ve been watching her matches and always cheering for her because we’re the same age. We’ve known each other for a long time. It’s very nice to play her in the final. It’s definitely going to be a tough match. I think we’re both in great form.”