MADRID, Spain - The 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan may be over two years away, but Greece's Maria Sakkari is already the walking embodiment of the Olympic spirit.
The 22-year-old from Athens was recently offered $30,000 to assist in her Olympic preparation from the Greek federation and Sakkari immediately offered to split the funds with her compatriots, ATP rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas and 21-year-old Valentini Grammatikopoulou, who is currently ranked No.175.
"Every athlete in my country gets an amount of money for the preparation for the Olympic games," Sakkari told a small pool of reporters at the Mutua Madrid Open. "Me, Stefanos, and Valentini are in the Olympic preparation. I got a call from the president and he said I have $30,000 for you. I said I think we should split it because Valentini needs the money more than I do because her ranking position is lower, and of course Stefanos deserves it as much as I do. He's trying hard and he's working hard.
"We're all working hard and we all deserve the same amount of money. I proposed to split the money because it's the right thing to do."
"The Olympic games started in Greece. For me, it's a very important thing. I hope I can make it."
After a strong run to the semifinals of the Istanbul Cup two weeks ago, Sakkari is up to a career-high No.42 in the rankings. The same week she was swashbuckling her way to her first semifinal of the season, Tsitsipas had his own dream week at the ATP event in Barcelona, where the 19-year-old made his first final. It was one of the most successful weeks in recent Greek tennis history, and Sakkari believes their dual success is bringing tennis back into the mainstream back home.
"He's a great kid," Sakkari said. "This guy is playing so nice, it's a joke. It's impossible that this guy doesn't make it. It was about time to see him going up and winning all these matches."
Both Sakkari and Tsitsipas have the WTA in their blood. Sakkari's mother, Angeliki Kanellopoulo, reached a career-high No.43 in 1987, while Tsitsipas' mother, Julia Apostoli, played for both the Soviet Union in the 1980s and Greece in the 1990s. In two years, Sakkari and Tsitsipas could be the heart of the Greek Olympic tennis team. Not bad for a couple of childhood friends.
"I've known him since we were kids," Sakkari said. "His mom used to play as well. I guess she stopped earlier than my mom. They remember each other from that time, so it was a family thing."
"It would have been great if we both could win [last week], but I think tennis is growing with us. Now you see it in the news, and maybe in the last 15 years you didn't see anything about tennis. Maybe you have people who don't even know Rafael Nadal! Many kids are following us and when we played Fed Cup it was a full house. It's a great feeling."