Indian Wells, Calif. -- Greece's Maria Sakkari will rise to a new career-high No.3 on Monday, after her run to the biggest final of her career at the BNP Paribas Open. The 26-year-old came up short against new World No.2 Iga Swiatek, losing 6-4, 6-1, but Sakkari is already eyeing a charge at next week's Miami Open.
"I think I played some very, very good matches," Sakkari told reporters after the final. "I really believe I took a step forward this week, even though I lost today. It was a week that will have a special place in my heart. I know it sounds kind of weird because I did not win the tournament, but I felt like I improved as a player this week. I'm just going to take that with me and move forward."
En route to her second final of the season, Sakkari scored wins over Katerina Siniakova, Petra Kvitova, Daria Saville, Elena Rybakina and defending champion Paula Badosa in the semifinals. With a 16-4 record, she now sits behind only Swiatek in match-wins in 2022.
"It was a week that winning [against] these players, overcoming myself in certain situations, was the key for me, to just believe more in myself and see myself in these positions and these later stages of the tournament," Sakkari said. "I'm disappointed. I'm not going to hide that. I'm very disappointed I did not win today. But there are a lot of positive things that I'll take with me."
"I had a little chat with Tom [Hill, coach]. He said that since we started working, I take baby steps. Looks like that. Probably it's going to take me a little bit of time until I make that next step. But I think I'm on the right track, for sure."
The final was the first in nearly a decade to pit two Top 10 players against each other in Indian Wells. The last time it happened was 2013, when Maria Sharapova faced Caroline Wozniacki. Along with No.7 Badosa, the semifinal slate featured a total of three Top 10 players. Last month, the finals of the WTA 1000 in Doha and WTA 500 in St. Petersburg also featured all-Top 10 duels.
The trend of the current Top 10 on the Hologic WTA Tour setting themselves apart from the pack has not been lost on Sakkari.
"Iga said we'll be playing [each other] for 10 more years, but I don't think I'll be playing for 10 more years tennis," she said, laughing. "There's an age difference between [us].
"But I believe what she says. As long as I'll be playing for, there will be a lot of matches between the two of us.
"There are a few girls that now have a different level and we're playing each other more and more. I'm excited for that. I'm excited because it means that if I get to play her every week, her or Ash or Sabalenka, Krejcikova, all these girls, it means that we're in a good place."
Sakkari was a semifinalist at the Miami Open last year, losing a hotly contested match against Bianca Andreescu. Despite her Indian Wells result, Sakkari believes the quick turnaround for Miami will be the perfect salve.
"I think it's a perfect situation right now because I won't go away mentally," she said. "I know in a couple days I'll have to play again. I'm used to that match rhythm.
"I'm going to have a couple days off and I'll be ready for it, Miami, because I think it's a tournament that suits me."