GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Mexico loves Maria Sakkari and Maria Sakkari loves Mexico, so much so that the Greek star has pledged her support to El Tri for the upcoming World Cup.
"There is something special about this tournament, about the people, about how I feel about this place," Sakkari told reporters at the Akron Guadalajara Open after advancing to the semifinals to secure the final qualifying spot for the WTA Finals.
"I told my friends here, my Mexican friends, that I'll be supporting Mexico in the World Cup because Greece did not qualify. I'll support my second favorite country."
Sakkari's connection to Mexico began last fall when Guadalajara hosted the WTA Finals. Making her tournament debut as the No.4 seed, Sakkari advanced to the semifinals. Her physical and emotive style drew in the raucous crowd and quickly made her a fan favorite.
The feeling was mutual.
"I see all the restaurants being full every day," Sakkari said. "That reminds me a lot of Greece. No matter if it's Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they like to go out. They like their music.
"You're outgoing. You like good food. You like the good life as we do, in a good way, of course. I mean, everything. You're very passionate like we are."
With Greek flags flying around the stadium and fans young and old screaming their support, Sakkari tapped into the fighting spirit that boosted her to a career-high ranking of No.3 early in the year. On Friday, in a one-match play-off for the final spot at the WTA Finals, Sakkari dug deep to save 14 of 15 break points to hold off Veronika Kudermetova and advance to her second WTA 1000 semifinal of the season.
"Last year I had some very special moments here," Sakkari said after her first-round win over Marta Kostyuk. "Obviously, didn't make it until the end. But even the match I lost, I think it was very, very special.
"The atmosphere was, from the first match I played until the last, incredible. When I came back here, I just felt like I want to feel that again. I think that today everyone showed me that it's the same as it was last year."
Sakkari faces No.38 Marie Bouzkova in Saturday's semifinal, and if there's anyone who can rival Sakkari for the crowd's affection, it is the Czech. Bouzkova has enjoyed great success in Guadalajara, across all levels, winning more matches than any other player in the city. Bouzkova, who trains in Spain, has now made four semifinals in Guadalajara, at the WTA 125K in 2019, the WTA 250 in 2021 and 2022, and now the WTA 1000. Her success and Spanish fluency have endeared her to the locals.
"I think it's going to be amazing, that she's going to have the support, amazing crowd behind her as well," Bouzkova said when asked about the split in crowd support for Saturday. "It just adds even more to the nice atmosphere. That's why we love it here so much, playing in the night sessions.
"Yeah, just hope I'm going to get that support as well. I think it's just going to have so much energy, that match tomorrow. Super excited about it."