Maria Sakkari stormed into the Roland Garros semifinals Wednesday with a 6-4, 6-4 shocker of defending champion Iga Swiatek.
The No.17 seed Sakkari ended Swiatek’s 11-match winning streak at Roland Garros -- all of which had come in straight sets -- to extend her career-best performance at a Grand Slam event.
The upset guarantees not only a first-time Grand Slam champion, but also two major final debutantes battling for that crown.
"I don't want to get too excited because I don't have a day off tomorrow," Sakkari said in her post-match press conference. "I still have to play, stay focused. But it's a big achievement, for sure. I'm enjoying, as I said on court, my tennis and myself.
"I have people around me telling it was going to come. You know, they were right. Maybe I was the one who was telling them, I was impatient, telling them, 'When and when and when?' It actually came this week, so I'm happy about it."
Now the highest-ranked player remaining in the field, Sakkari is just two wins away from a maiden Grand Slam singles title for a Greek woman. Hoisting the trophy could also propel her to a Top 10 debut at week's end.
Two days ago, Sakkari became the first Grand Slam singles quarterfinalist from Greece when she earned her first win over a Top 10 player at a Grand Slam by knocking out World No.5 Sofia Kenin.
Sakkari made it two Top 10 wins in a row with her 1-hour and 35-minute upset over No.8 seed Swiatek, beating both of last year’s French Open finalists in succession.
Against the reigning titleholder, Sakkari won 83 percent of points behind her rapidly improving first service. Sakkari out-winnered the powerful Pole 26 to 17, sending Swiatek to her first defeat at Stade Roland Garros since 2019.
"Every player has a way of playing, a way of just executing the game plan. I feel like I have a heavy forehand, a good forehand on the clay. I have to play with it. I served really well today."
On Thursday, Sakkari will find herself in a semifinal showdown with World No.33 Barbora Krejcikova after the Czech defeated Coco Gauff in straight sets in the day’s first quarterfinal. Krejcikova has won both of her previous meetings with Sakkari, including in Dubai earlier this year.
"Just to say the truth, I did not play well in Dubai," Sakkari said. "It was one of [Krejcikova's] best weeks. Credit to her. She played very, very good that week. But different conditions, fast court, fast balls. I made a lot of unforced errors.
"I think, of course, it's going to be very tough, but I'm confident that my coaches will give me the right game plan. So far I have been executing whatever they said really well. I trust myself and I trust their game plan. I think it's going to work out well."
At the outset of the quarterfinal, an early 2-0 lead for Swiatek was erased in the next game by Sakkari, and the Greek then staved off four break points in the next game before reaching level footing at 2-2 with a service winner. It was then Swiatek’s turn to save multiple break points, fending off three in the following game as she held on for 3-2.
A surging Sakkari dropped only one point in her next two service games en route to 4-4, and the Greek suddenly broke for 5-4 as her depth of shot and impenetrable defense drew more and more errors from the defending champion.
Serving for the set, Sakkari lined up a set point with an ace, but she was eventually drawn back to break point by Swiatek. But two more heavy serves got Sakkari out of that predicament, as she won a second set point. That time, the underdog converted her opportunity, finishing a rally with a backhand winner to end Swiatek’s Roland Garros set-winning streak at 22.
Consider the moment seized 👏— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2021
In her first career major quarter-final, 🇬🇷@mariasakkari earns the upset over defending champ and No.8 seed Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-4. She'll face Krejcikova for a spot in the final.#RolandGarros pic.twitter.com/y4cWZwUnn2
Sakkari continued her roll in the second set as she broke Swiatek in the opening game. After a medical timeout to have her leg taped at 2-0, Swiatek regrouped, and the Polish player did not drop serve again. But Sakkari never relinquished her break advantage as she dropped just two points on serve in her first four service games of the second stanza.
Serving for the match at 5-4, a wide array of shot-making -- a dropshot, an ace, and a winning forehand -- swiftly led Sakkari to triple match point. Sakkari finally dropped two more points on serve as Swiatek attacked on return, but on the Greek’s third match point, a Swiatek return flew wide, and Sakkari continued her draw-busting run in Paris.
"I thought about it a lot of times that maybe that was my ceiling and I could not get any higher in the rankings, playing better in tournaments," Sakkari said. "But this year I proved to myself that I'm actually playing really good.
"I beat a lot of good players. Probably also I had the right people around me saying that I can do it, [which] gave me a lot of confidence in achieving that."