DOHA, Qatar – No.15 seed Maria Sakkari celebrated breaking into the Top 20 of the WTA Rankings for the first time by making safe progress through the first round of the Qatar Total Open by overcoming Julia Goerges, 6-4, 6-3 in one hour 22 minutes.
Ahead of the encounter, the German held a 3-1 head-to-head advantage over her rival and she had won both previous hard court meetings. That statistic, however, would be obliterated by the Greek, who got out to quick starts in both sets and thereafter showed a steady level to secure the match.
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Indeed, the 24-year-old took the opening four games in both sets to secure her passage through to the second round in Doha for the first time in three visits.
“She’s a great player. She’s got a big serve and a big game. You have to be careful with her and you have to come up with a good game plan to beat her,” she said.
“I think Tom and I came up with a great game plan, because last three times I played her I lost, obviously. So had to be clear, with what I had to do on the court and it seemed like it worked perfectly.
“So I think I just followed the plan perfectly, so I think it was really good.”
The confidence that Sakkari gained from reaching an eighth WTA Tour semifinal in St Petersburg, where she beat WTA World No.4 Belinda Bencic, earlier this month was evident as she sprinted out into a quick lead against a two-time Doha quarterfinalist.
Goerges, who had lost in Dubai qualifying a week previous, was a little tentative having been asked to serve first, and though she was able to save a couple of break points in the opening game, a third proved a bridge too far.
That game set the tone for the opening stages of the match, with Sakkari leaping into a four-game lead without too much difficulty.
Once Goerges started to find her range, she gained a foothold in the match, but aside from breaking Sakkari to love, she found nothing easy coming her way in a set in which she faced nine break points.
By contrast, the WTA World No.20 was more secure on her own delivery, find 71% of first serves and facing just the single break point in the opener, which Goerges took.
It made for a winning formula in the first set and the second would be played along similar lines.
Goerges continued to make too many unforced errors and quickly slipped to a 0-4 deficit once again, with an ill-timed double fault handing her opponent the insurance of a double break.
Although the 31-year-old was able to get on the board and even got one of the breaks back, she had once again left her rally too late and Sakkari was able to sashay through to the second round.
“It’s a dream come true to be in the Top 20 players. But I don’t want to stop here. I see myself much higher and that’s what I’m going to work for. It’s a good goal, but I need to work more,” Sakkari admitted after the match, with her next assignment against qualifier Tereza Martincova, who overcame lucky loser Misaki Doi in three sets.