For the first time in her career, Maria Sakkari is through to the semifinals at the Mutua Madrid Open after she outlasted No.31 seed Irina-Camelia Begu in the quarterfinals on Tuesday night, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2.
Sakkari entered the match leading Begu 2-1 in their career head-to-head, with both of her wins coming in three sets. Having won the opener in both of those victories, Sakkari had to come from behind for the first time to extend her winning record against the Romanian: After losing a marathon opening set that lasted well over an hour, Sakkari bounced back to wrap up victory in 2 hours and 52 minutes.
Stat of the day: Already a first-time quarterfinalist in Madrid, Sakkari is now through to her eighth career WTA 1000 semifinal. She'll seek a berth in her third final at this level against No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, who also came from a set down in her own quarterfinal victory over Mayar Sherif.
20 - Maria Sakkari is the second player with 20+ WTA SFs reached in the last 3 seasons (2021, 2022 and 2023), after Iga Swiatek - also 20, before her QF v Petra Martic in Madrid. Rule.#MMOPEN | @MutuaMadridOpen @WTA @WTA_insider pic.twitter.com/lyhMtfBn5D— OptaAce (@OptaAce) May 2, 2023
Turning point: The match was finely poised entering the final set. After saving two break points in her first service game of the decider, Sakkari broke in the sixth game that extended past deuce to take a lead that she'd never relinquish. She needed four break points in the game, and denied Begu a chance to hold as well.
After she failed to secure a double-break lead as an opportunity passed her by in the fifth game, Sakkari saved a break point with a sliding backhand volley that helped her stretch her lead to 4-2. This time, Sakkari earned an insurance break to lead 5-2 and closed out the win.
Sakkari on her scrappy win: "Her gameplan was very different from any other that I faced the last few years on the tour. It's not easy to face those moonballs because you want to hit the ball, but you cannot because the altitude does not help you. I'm glad it was a mental win today because tennis-wise it wasn't as good as yesterday. I'll give myself a chance to play better tennis in a couple of days."
Scouting Sakkari vs. Sabalenka: The two Top 10 players will meet for the ninth time, with Sabalenka holding a 5-3 edge. They've already played once this year, with Sabalenka winning 6-2, 6-3 last month in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open.
All eight of those meetings, though, were played on hard courts.
"We all know she's in top form right now," Sakkari said. "She's the one that is playing the best tennis right now, better than anyone else. Obviously it's not hard court, her favorite surface, but she won this tournament and she's playing very good.
"I believe I can play good on clay court, I believe I can play good here. Let's see how it goes. I'm very curious to see how different it will play compared to other times we've played each other."