Sakkari, endless crisis. Is it really a surprise? - UBITENNIS
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Sakkari, endless crisis. Is it really a surprise?

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The Greek loses for the third time in a row in the first round in a slam, grabbing a sad record, as never before had anyone in the top 10 lost in the first round for three straight slams. Is it really a surprise though? The story of a tennis player as physically strong as mentally fragile.

By Bianca Mundo

Maria Sakkari cries during her press conference. Twenty-four hours after stating during an ‘interview that she considered herself “serene and regenerated” after several weeks spent in Greece training and “ready to take one match at a time in the slams,” and confident after the final she reached just few weeks earlier in Washington. Once again, she is on the list of “upsets” on the first day of a slam. If, in hindsight, the first round defeat in Paris against the resurgent and very talented Muchova, who would later reach the final, where she forced even the world No. 1 to do overtime, can be accepted, if a bad day at Wimbledon, where the match with Kostuyk was nonetheless exciting and uncertain until the end, can happen, in Monday’s defeat against Masarova, the world number 77 who had never made it beyond the second round in a slam, if two clues make a proof, one can start talking about a real crisis.

The fact that Sakkari is not the female equivalent of Nadal in terms of the temper is no surprise. The 22 lost semifinals and seven lost finals out of eight played in her career are evidence of how this girl from Athens often melts like snow in the sun at major moments. In front of the cameras, including the Netflix ones that followed her in 2022 on the journey that took her from the Indian Wells final to the very painful semifinal loss to Kreijcikova where she started as the favourite, she never concealed her vulnerability and her struggle to handle the pressure: “It’s like there are two little creatures inside my mind in perpetual conflict, I didn’t even feel like I was in me. I got there completely empty of any energy.” However, she seemed to accept defeat with philosophy (which comes as no surprise, given her homeland) declaring “you learn to lose. Unless you are Roger, Rafa or Novak, who are from another planet. All the rest of us, we will always lose more than we can win, considering that you play almost every week.”

If indeed the scheduling of the tour grants an opportunity for redemption almost on a weekly basis, the downside is the frenetic moving often from one country or continent to another that leaves no room for any period of reflection and seems to suck players into a vortex. Snowed under with one, two, three defeats in a row and the surface seems farther and farther to reach.

Sakkari, in last night’s press conference, finally seemed much more honest with herself, after the numerous press conferences and interviews in which she claimed to have gained enough experience to win a major title. That much-coveted major title, or the fact it’s still missing, has been held against her since she entered the top 10, considering that so far she has only once lifted a trophy in a minor event, Rabat 2019.

She tearfully admitted that the two defeats at Roland Garros and Wimbledon have been a constant thought and most importantly for the first time she confirmed that identifying the problem is the biggest hurdle, before any hypothetical solution. Thus, it is not a matter of an injury, a coach to be changed immediately as suggested by the keyboard warriors, the stench of cannabis she complained about to the umpire during the match. The issue appears to be in her own words “I can’t see where the problem is. She is very tall and served well, but if I had played 10/15% better than I did, I would have won the match. These are matches I have to win, and there have been too many this year that I have lost like this. I must do something, but I don’t know what. I’m putting all the effort I can, but I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”

Sakkari is thinking of taking a break from tennis, in the wake of a currently increasing and significant number of athletes like Andreescu, Anisimova, Muguruza and even multiple slam winners like Osaka, who in the last couple of years have expressed the same need, confirming that the muscle to be kept most trained in tennis, is the brain.

Not surprisingly, during the whole match with Masarova, she seemed almost absent. And there comes the echo of the words from her mother Angeliki, who is a tennis player as well and which do sound like a prophecy within the current events “Maria has sacrificed so much since she was a little girl. Only her inner demons or an injury could keep her off a tennis court. Because tennis players do not only lose to their opponents, but also to themselves.”

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Stefanos Tsitsipas Saves Two Match Points To Extend Winning Streak In Barcelona

Stefanos Tsitsipas survived a scare to reach the Barcelona semi-finals.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas saved two match points to defeat Facundo Diaz Acosta 4-6 6-3 7-6(8) in Barcelona.

The former finalist saved two match points against the inspired Argentinian as Tsitsipas reached the semi-finals.

It means Tsitsipas is 9-0 in the clay court season and has the chance to set up a potential rematch with Casper Ruud in the final.

The duo met in last week’s Monte-Carlo final where Tsitsipas claimed his third title in Monaco.

Speaking after the match Tsitsipas admitted it was difficult to sustain his level, “I was coming close [to losing] at certain moments in the match. It seemed like a mountain,” Tsitsipas stated to the ATP website.

“I reminded myself that I have a headband that I wear here that has a mountain and that I need to climb it, so it kept me going. It was difficult. It was extremely difficult to sustain the same level throughout the entire match and I think he played incredible.

“I think he left everything out there. He is a good clay-court player. He has a title on the ATP Tour for a reason and today it was a level he was able to bring out on the court that made it quite obvious.

“I got a little bit tense on my serve, I won’t lie. I think I started decelerating a lot, but once I got a hold of that I was conscious of that, it went back to where it belonged and helped me a lot in the tie-breaker because if I didn’t figure it out, I don’t know. It was very mental in general. I really had to go to uncomfortable places mentally and go over the limit at some point.”

Tsitsipas is currently seven in the world in the live rankings as the Greek is looking to claim his first title in Barcelona.

Next up for the Greek will be either Dusan Lajovic or Arthur Fils while Tomas Martin Etcheverry takes on Casper Ruud in the other semi-final.

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Elena Rybakina Looking To Adapt To Clay, Reaches Stuttgart Semi-Finals

Elena Rybakina has admitted it takes time to adapt to clay as she prepares for the semi-finals in Stuttgart.

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Elena Rybakina is into the semi-finals in Stuttgart after a 6-3 5-7 6-3 win over Jasmine Paolini.

After surviving a three set match against Veronika Kudermetova in her first round, Rybakina continued to struggle on the clay against the Italian.

However the former Wimbledon champion produced some big tennis in vital moments in order to reach the last four in Germany.

Although she has had success in the past on the clay, Rybakina knows that it will take time for her to adapt on the surface.

Speaking after her win over Kudermetova Rybakina explained the reasons why it is difficult to have immediate success on clay, “Well, I always believed that I can play good on clay. My first win on the WTA was on clay,” Rybakina was quoted by tennis365 as saying.

“It’s just the season is quite short, and of course me, for example, I need a bit more time to get used, to adapt, to play some matches. But overall I think that I can play well on all the surfaces. Last year it was a great tournament in Rome, and then the French Open, I actually feel also well there.

“I like the courts. It’s just I was unlucky with sickness, so I think I’m doing pretty well for now. I like a faster surface, and I think in Madrid it’s quite fast. For now I was not successful there, but I think that’s a great tournament for me.

“Rome was nice. As I said, French Open, I like the courts. It’s just the question of good preparation and being healthy. And then it all depends on you and of course on the opponent.”

Last year Rybakina claimed the title in Rome and was one of the favourites for Roland Garros.

However the Kazakh had to withdraw in the third round due to illness which hampered her progress throughout the season.

Now Rybakina will look to make amends for that as she is into the semi-finals in Stuttgart where she will play either defending champion Iga Swiatek or Emma Raducanu.

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Rafael Nadal Takes Positives From Barcelona Exit Against Alex De Minaur

Rafael Nadal exited the tournament in Barcelona in the second round to Alex De Minaur.

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Rafael Nadal believes that he can be competitive for Roland Garros despite his 7-5 6-1 defeat to Alex De Minaur in Barcelona.

The 12-time champion suffered a straight sets defeat to the in-form Australian in the second round.

There was a valiant comeback from Nadal in the opening set as he recovered from a break down to get back onto level terms.

However De Minaur was too strong for Nadal as the world number eleven won nine of the last ten games to set up a third round meeting with Daniel Altmaier or Arthur Fils.

After the match Nadal congratulated De Minaur on the victory and analysed his own performance, “I mean Alex is a great player but honestly no, in terms of tennis today he’s in better shape than me so he is playing at a really high level since the beginning of the season, I think he made a really important step forward in his level of tennis,” Nadal told reporters in Barcelona.

“So just happy for him and congratulate him for the level he played today. And I think I was able to show myself most important to show the world and show myself when I was really trying and showed a high percentage of intensity, my level was there to compete.

“And I didn’t practice a lot so that encourages me to keep going and tells me that if I spend the day on the tour and keep practicing with the players on this surface, I really hope and really believe that I can keep being competitive and my body will allow me to push the way that I know.”

The defeat to De Minaur was Nadal’s third match all season having struggled with injury with the Spaniard hinting this could be his last time playing in Barcelona.

Despite the loss Nadal admits he feels happier and more comfortable than he did a couple of weeks ago, “I feel much more comfortable and much more happier today than one week and a half ago,” Nadal explained.

“I managed to play two matches, playing against great players and I mean when I was able to play I was not very far without a doubt. And I feel myself that if I’m able to keep practicing days on the tour and if my body allows me to spend hours on court and have the practices the way that I need.”

Now the next goal for Nadal is to try to reclaim his Roland Garros title, a tournament he has won on 14 different occasions.

As for Roland Garros Nadal just hopes he can be competitive for the second Grand Slam of the season as he intensifies his preparations over the next few weeks, “I hope to be competitive, that’s the truth and I hope and believe that I can be competitive in a few weeks,” Nadal stated.

“That’s the way I need to perceive today and my final goal is to give myself a chance to be realistically competing at Roland Garros. In my tennis career I was able to compete at the highest level at every single tournament, trying to win tournaments and I was not able to do it today.

“But I hope to be ready in a few weeks.”

Before Roland Garros, Nadal will hope to play in Madrid which starts on the 25th of April.

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