SAN JOSE, CA, USA -- Greece's Maria Sakkari continues to roll through the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic draw, reaching the semifinals on Friday with a straight-set shocker over No.3 seed and former World No.1 Venus Williams of the United States, 6-4, 7-6(2).
"I think I played great tennis," Sakkari exclaimed to the press after her victory. "My serve was not doing great, but I think my baseline game was very good. I never stopped fighting, believing I could win the match."
World No.49 Sakkari has moved through her first three matches without dropping a set, picking up her biggest win of the week yet over Williams in the quarterfinals, emerging victorious in one hour and 43 minutes, and saving two set points in the second set in the process. It was Sakkari's first win over Williams in their three meetings.
"I was ready for the match, compared to the last times I played against her -- I was ready for a battle and ready to play against Venus Williams," said Sakkari of her opponent, who she called a "legend."
Sakkari converted six of her eight break points in the match, and hit 21 winners, three more than Williams. The American, who won this title in 2000 and 2002 when it was played at Stanford University, had 43 unforced errors throughout the tilt.
"I’m not very big; I’m strong, but I don’t have a big serve," said Sakkari. "I have to play with my weapons, and my weapons are my physical condition, being solid inside the court, and making a lot of balls."
"Obviously when the ball comes in the middle of the court, you’re not just going to make it in, you have to finish the point or step in the returns," Sakkari elaborated. "That doesn’t mean that it’s gonna change my game. Each player has a base and a way of playing...That’s my base, and then if I can do more things, then that’s positive, and good for me."
Sakkari will face another unseeded player, Danielle Collins, in the final four. American Collins moved into the semifinals after her opponent, former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka, retired midway through the second set due to a back injury.
Williams raced out to a 3-0 lead, serving well in her first two service games while Sakkari initially struggled on her delivery. The Greek threw in two double faults in her first service game, and Williams appeared to have the upper hand.
But, upon the advice of her coach, Sakkari cut down her unforced errors dramatically from that point forward, and reaped the benefits as Williams began to frequently end points with miscues, especially from her forehand side. The Greek player used her guile and depth of shot to reel off five straight games and wholly turn the set around, leading 5-3.
Williams tried to be more aggressive on her returns as the set reached its conclusion, but the former World No.1 continued to struggle keeping Sakkari’s heavy shots in play, and the Greek held at love for a one-set lead after Williams returned a strong Sakkari serve long. Williams had only three winners in the first set, compared to a whopping 17 unforced errors.
The second set was topsy-turvy, with the player who made the fewer unforced errors at any time holding the momentum. Williams again started the set with a bang, picking up a 2-0 lead. But Sakkari got back on serve at 2-1 after Williams ended a lengthy game with two consecutive double faults.
That began a run of three straight games for Sakkari to a break lead at 3-2, before Williams rebounded to get back level at 3-3. After holding for 4-3 at love, Williams claimed her third game in a row by punching a volley winner to break for 5-3.
Williams lost serve at love in the next game, but raced to double set point on the Greek’s serve at 5-4, and a third set loomed. But Sakkari reached deuce with a forehand winner down the line to level the set at 5-5. The Greek then broke Williams at love for the second straight time, but she faltered serving for the match at 6-5 with multiple forehand errors.
Thus, the players advanced to the tiebreak, and it was all Sakkari. Too many groundstroke errors by Williams put Sakkari up 5-1 at the change of ends, and the Greek fired an ace directly afterward to grab quintuple match point. On her second chance, Sakkari fired a forehand winner, easing through the tiebreak to clinch the upset.