Maria Sakkari wouldn't trade her first WTA title for anything. The Greek star broke through in Rabat, Morrocco two weeks ago to win her maiden title at the Grand Prix De SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem 2019. En route to the win, Sakkari defeated Elise Mertens, Alison Van Uytvanck, and Johanna Konta in her last three rounds to win the title and boost her ranking from No.51 to No.39.
"It was an emotional week," Sakkari told WTA Insider at the Mutua Madrid Open. "Your first title is always very special anywhere it is. It felt great. I had many tough matches. I haven't realized it yet."
Sakkari's title-run was the first for a Greek woman in over 11 years, since Eleni Daniilidou won 2008 Hobart. It was a welcome salve for Sakkari, in a season that fell flat during the spring hardcourts. Sakkari went 3-6 through the first three months of the season, including a four-match losing streak, before things began to turn around on clay.
The 23-year-old scored a big win over Kiki Bertens in Charleston to make her first quarterfinal of the season, and three weeks later she was holding her first trophy.
"We know tennis," Sakkari said. "You cannot always win. You will always have two, three, four, five weeks in a row losing in the first round. It can happen, as it happened with me this year.
"Of course I was very disappointed, but Tom, my mom, my whole team were so supportive. They really helped me get over it really fast. After my loss in Istanbul we had some hard days over there practicing, which I think helped a lot so I could get back on track.
"My mindset was just that I have to fight and my tennis is going to improve by being on court. So I think that's what happened match by match. It was improving."
Sakkari said the key to winning in Rabat was a more positive mindset, one that was facilitated by her coach Tom Hill.
"He's the most positive person I have next to me," Sakkari said. "It's always important to have people like him on my team. Sometimes I was a little bit negative in my matches and he came in and he gave me his positivity and it helped me have a positive result."
"I was on court losing a set and 4-2 in the final and I still believed I'm gonna win. I was like, ok, I'm going to win this set 6-4 and I'm going to win the third set 6-2. I won 6-1."
Sakkari's mother, Angeliki Kanellopoulou, herself a former Top 50 player on the WTA Tour, has also been instrumental in keeping her daughter's perspective in check when the results were going against her.
"She was so proud of me and the way I was fighting," Sakkari said. "She was like, I'm so proud of you, I don't care if you win or lose from the first round.
"She knew I was stressed about getting the wins and getting the points, because I know I'm losing some points next week and you know how we are thinking.
"After talking with her I got rid of this thought. I didn't care about any points and any rankings. I think that's the best advice she gave me this week. Thinking about these external things get you so tired and fatigued."
Sakkari had a tough turnaround from Rabat to Madrid, winning the title on Sunday evening and then flying to Madrid to play a first-round match on Monday night. Sakkari lost to Carla Suárez Navarro.
"We arrived in Madrid at midnight and I got to sleep around 3 am. I had one of the worst sleeps of my life because I was so excited about my win.
"But I'm not going to trade it for anything else. Winning my first title is unique."
Sakkari's disappointment did not last long. This week at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, she came through qualifying and secured a 6-1, 7-5 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round. She will face No.14 Anett Kontaveit next.
"It's funny, a bird s**t on my bag before the tournament in Rabat so I was like, good things are going to happen," Sakkari said with a laugh.
"So I haven't cleaned my bag since then. I think I'm not going to wash it."