Maria Sakkari of Greece got her Akron WTA Finals campaign off to a stellar start, defeating Iga Swiatek of Poland 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday afternoon in Guadalajara.
The No.4 seed Sakkari made history for her country this season, becoming the first Greek woman to qualify for the WTA Finals in either singles or doubles. She pushed her historic feat even further with her 86-minute win over No.5 seed Swiatek, taking the early lead in the Chichén Itzá round-robin group.
Fast facts: In the encounter between two of this year’s six WTA Finals singles debutantes, Sakkari continued her dominance over Swiatek in their burgeoning rivalry.
They squared off for the first time this season at Roland Garros, where Sakkari upset defending champion Swiatek to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal. Another win in the Ostrava semifinals followed this fall, and Sakkari is now 3-0 against the Pole (6-0 in sets).
With another win over Swiatek, Sakkari improves to 8-4 against Top 10-ranked opponents this year at tour-level events. Her eight Top 10 wins currently lead the WTA for the 2021 season. Before this year, the Greek was 10-13 against Top 10 opposition.
Both Sakkari and Swiatek have two more matches to go in the round-robin portion of the event. They will each face the other members of the Chichén Itzá group, Paula Badosa and No.1 seed Aryna Sabalenka.
Words from the winner: "I think it was a very solid match from my side," Sakkari said in her post-match press conference. "Obviously my serve really helped my game. I felt quite good with the altitude. I could control my shots pretty well. I think every day I'll feel even better.
"I actually have a good game to play against [Swiatek]. All three times I played her, I played one of the best matches of the season. Like even today, I think I was very solid in these conditions.
"I'm very proud that I can be the first woman, Greek woman, to actually represent my country into the Top 10 and of course in this tournament. It feels amazing to be able to travel around the world playing these tournaments, being one of the best players, and being from my country. I'm very, very proud of that."
Tale of the match: Sakkari was brilliant behind her first serve, winning 26 of those 27 points (96.3 percent). Swiatek could not grab a foothold in the match because of it, and the Pole was also undone by six double faults at inopportune times.
Sakkari handled the conditions with aplomb in the opening set, winning eight of her first nine service points. Swiatek struggled with double faults and long errors in her second service game, ultimately ceding a 3-1 lead to the Greek.
Sakkari fended off two break points with solid serves en route to a hold for 4-2, then broke Swiatek at love to storm further ahead. Serving for the set, a forehand winner gave Sakkari her first set point, which she converted after a netted return by Swiatek. Sakkari finished the set having won all 12 of her first-service points.
Sakkari continued to use power and depth to eke out many rallies in the second set, and though Swiatek kept things closer this time around, the Greek was still able to draw errors and attain a break at 3-3. That would be all Sakkari needed, as she stormed through the final game of the match with a love hold.