NEW YORK, NY, USA - No.13 seed Maria Sakkari made a statement to start her efforts inside the New York bubble on Saturday afternoon with a dominant 6-1, 6-3 first-round victory over Coco Gauff at the Western & Southern Open.
After a surprise loss to Kristyna Pliskova in the first round of the Palermo Ladies' Open, her lone prior match in the first two weeks of the tour's restart, Sakkari showcased supreme form over the course of 65 minutes on Grandstand at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in her first meeting against the American teenager.
Facing just the one break point across two sets, Sakkari won nearly 70 percent of the points in her service games, and broke Gauff twice in each set, to cruise through to a second-round clash against either Yulia Putintseva or Zhang Shuai.
"I think I really played a good match. I played a match in Palermo, but for me, it doesn't count. It wasn't even a match [there], the way I played," Sakkari said on-court after the match. "Coming back the way I did, it's really important, and [I take] a lot of confidence from this."
Despite having never played Gauff before, the Greek No.1 has already played a crucial role in Gauff career so far: her withdrawal from last October's Upper Austria Ladies' Linz allowed the then-15-year-old to get in the draw as a lucky loser, and she went on to win five matches en route to her first WTA singles title.
Though both players served under 50 percent for the match, it was the 25-year-old World No.21 who did a better job of both protecting her second serve, and dominating when she landed her first, over the course of the match.
"I think my serve was one thing that really worked well today and gave me a lot of cheap points, if I can call them like that," Sakkari later told reporters.
"I think the toughest spot was just to follow the tactic the whole time, like always, but I'm very satisfied, because after a long time I got to play on that level."
Gauff could do little to stem Sakkari's momentum in the opening set, which lasted under a half hour. The Greek No.1 won the first three and last three games of the set, never allowing Gauff a look at a break point. The teenager arrived at deuce in the set just once, with Sakkari serving at 2-0, 40-15, but could not find a way through Sakkari's expert defense and one-two punches.
"I think one thing that I like about her, that not many girls have is that she's quick, and maybe I like that because I'm also quick. We are not many on tour," Sakkari added.
"She's really young and she has many good things already in her game... She has a lot of room for improvement on a good way, so that's going to take her on a very high level. But having the right tactic with any player gives you the best result. I think that was the key."
In the second set, Gauff held serve at love to lead for the first - and ultimately, only - time in the match, and was given her best chance to get into the match in the next game. After denying Sakkari a pair of game points for 1-1, Gauff earned her first break point of the match, only to see Sakkari deny her the chance with a big serve into the forehand corner. In the ensuing game, it was Gauff herself who led 40-15, but she ultimately lost serve before against being broken to lose the match.
In all, Gauff managed just six winners to 24 unforced errors over the course of the match, while Sakkari recorded 14 winners to 21 unforced.
"[I'm happy with] the way I competed. It's tough after coming from a long stop to find your fighting spirit and your strength inside the court, so that's the thing that I'm really happy that I found today," she added. "I always do well in the States. I love the U.S., and I'm really happy to be back."