Four weeks ago, Maria Sakkari was in tears at the US Open. Entering the tournament as the No.8 seed, Sakkari fell in straight sets to No.71 Rebeka Masarova. She broke down as she spoke to reporters after the match and contemplated taking a break from the tour.
Sakkari had no idea that vulnerable moment, which took place in a secondary interview room with just a few reporters, was being beamed out across the globe.
"Because of that picture that went out to the press, a lot of players and people really felt for me," Sakkari told WTA Insider. "I cannot describe in words the amount of love and support I got. I believe that there are good people out there, and when they see someone who works hard, of course they want things to go well for other nice people.
On Saturday, Sakkari capped off a dominant week at the Guadalajara Open AKRON to win her first WTA 1000 title and second overall. Her win over Caroline Dolehide in the final snapped a six-match losing streak in championship matches and ended a four-year title drought.
"I'm just very proud of myself," Sakkari said. "Being like that at the US Open, wanting to take a break, and then finding the joy again during the week. It's a big title, my biggest title, it means so much.
"But over everything, it's just pure happiness and pure joy."
Sakkari spoke to WTA Insider by phone after her Guadalajara win to discuss the keys to pulling herself out her New York malaise.
WTA Insider: You spoke throughout the week about battling some demons within yourself. What did you mean by that?
Sakkari: I only had one goal this week: Just to be happy. If you watched a couple of my matches, you saw me smiling more than usual on the court. That was my goal. I was just very happy that I could do it because that was the key for me to get myself back and feel good on the court and feel happy and appreciate what I do.
I really liked what Coco [Gauff] said at the US Open, about how other people have bigger problems than we have when we lose a tennis match, and she's spot on. I kept thinking about that, and that gave me strength.
At the end of the day, it's just a tennis match. I'm healthy, and that's the most important thing. Everyone around me, my family, are happy and healthy. Those are the things that I took some time to think about, to remember what's important in life. Everyone focuses on their own problems, whether they are big, small, important or not important. You forget what's going on in the rest of the world.
WTA Insider: You and your coach, Tom Hill, have always said you wanted to begin and finish your careers together. Given the tough moments over the last few years, how tough was that, and how pleased are you to see your work pay off?
Sakkari: We're very good friends and we've been together for five years. We spoke about it and we believe that taking some breaks during the season is healthy for us because we see each other a lot. I believe going by myself to San Diego and practicing for 10 days before that by myself without Tom was good.
I'm very grateful that I have a person like Tom, who is an amazing coach, but above everything, he's an amazing human being. He's like a brother to me. The way he spoke to me before the match, it makes me very grateful to have a person like him by my side on my journey.
WTA Insider: Your trophy speech sounded a bit like Coco's from the US Open, referring to the criticism she had received as fuel for her success. But how hard was it to see and hear the negativity about your title drought?
Sakkari: We live in 2023. Social media is a part of our everyday life. You cannot avoid it. Coco said she knows the user names. I know them, too. I know the person with a YouTube channel who posts all my semifinal losses, all my final losses. I'm aware.
The satisfaction now, I cannot describe it. When you prove all these people wrong, it's fuel. For me, it worked as fuel. I knew it was going to come, I didn't know when. Thank you to them. They gave me strength.
WTA Insider: Well now you sound like Danil Medvedev.
Sakkari: He's someone I look up to (laughs). He's very clever, and he's very intelligent.
WTA Insider: Your week has boosted your chances of qualifying for the WTA Finals for a third straight year. How much does the title energize you for the remainder of the year?
Sakkari: Going into a tournament as a winner the week before is something I haven't felt in a long time.
I know Tokyo will be tough with the traveling, the time difference and the conditions. I'm lucky I got a performance bye. I arrive on Tuesday, and hopefully, I don't play until Thursday. But I'm just going to try my best.
Hopefully I can make the Finals, but even if I don't, this week has been a huge win for me. If I qualify for the Finals, amazing. If I don't, I'll have a longer break. That's how I see it right now. It's not something I'm obsessed with.