MELBOURNE, Australia - Greece's Maria Sakkari scored her first main draw win at a Slam on Monday, defeating Wang Yafan 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 in her Australian Open debut. Current ranked No.170, the 20-year-old worked her way through qualifying and will now play No.10 seed Carla Suárez Navarro - one of her favorite players - on Wednesday.
Get to know the affable young woman, who has Spartan blood from her father and tennis in her veins from her mother, Angeliki Kanellopoulo, who was once a Top 50 player on the WTA tour.
WTA Insider: How does it feel to get your first main draw win at a Slam?
Sakkari: I'm so excited; I cannot believe it. It's really tough to get through the qualifying with three tough matches and then a match that you have chances to win and you make it through to the second round and then you have to play against a top player. It's so exciting.
WTA Insider: You qualified and drew another qualifier. Were you excited about that?
Sakkari: On one side, it's good. But on the other side, it's pressure, because you know that you'll have many chances to win the match, but it's the same for her. If you control it good and you do what you have to do, I think it's gonna work.
WTA Insider: Last year, as you looked towards this season, what were your goals?
Sakkari: It's always tough for everyone at the beginning of the year, because we're coming from our off-season and it's tough to get back to the matches and into the mentality. I lost first round in my tournament this year, second round qualies in the second tournament. I was a bit tense, afraid for this tournament, but you know, with your heart and a good mind you can always do well. At the end of the season, I played good, so I was positive for the beginning.
WTA Insider: You spent your off-season in Spain?
Sakkari: I'm in Spain, Barcelona. I didn't have so much time; I only had two weeks because I finished my tournament in Carlsbad. Then I took a week off to relax a bit and then I went two weeks and a half in Spain for my pre-season, and then I went home for Christmas, and then I came here.
WTA Insider: Your mother is a former WTA player. What is that like, growing up with a mother who was on tour?
Sakkari: When you are like 5, 6, 7, 8, you can't realize it. I realized my mom was a tennis player when I played my first tournament, because everyone was saying, 'it's the daughter of Angeliki,' and then everyone started talking about me, that I'm her daughter. So then I started realizing who my mom is, because for Greece, it was a pretty big, that time. She made the quarterfinals at the Olympics and then third round of Roland Garros, 43 in the world. We didn't have anyone until that time, and after her was Daniilidou. I didn't start playing tennis because of her; this is what everyone thinks.
WTA Insider: How did you start playing tennis?
It was next to my house; the courts were, like, three minutes from my house. I was doing all kinds of sports because I was a sporty kid, and then I liked tennis. I started playing with my grandfather because he was a coach, and it started from there.
WTA Insider: Do you talk to your mom about your career? What's the best advice she's given you?
Sakkari: She totally understands every single situation. She never asked me, 'Why did you lose?' Many parents say that to their kids. When I win or lose, she's proud of me, if I'm doing the right thing. She's always next to me and always supports me. She always says, 'Enjoy; this is the thing you like to do, so enjoy.'
She's coming for a few weeks because my coach has family as well, and he cannot always leave his family. I enjoy going around with her.
WTA Insider: What other sports did you play and how did you choose to focus on tennis?
Sakkari: I was doing ballet - that's not really a sport - but they kicked me out because I wasn't that good. Then they kicked me out from karate as well, because I was laughing all the time. And then I said I have no choice I have to play tennis because they are kicking me out of everywhere.
WTA Insider: You play Carla Suárez Navarro next. Have you ever practiced with her? How well do you know her?
Sakkari: I admire her because I really like her game; she's one of my favorite players. I will enjoy the match; you don't get this chance on the ITF Tour. I will enjoy and do my best.
WTA Insider: Since you train in Spain, is it safe to say your favorite surface is clay?
Sakkari: Everyone thinks it's clay because I train in Spain, but it's not clay! I like hard courts.
WTA Insider: What's your favorite shot?
I think serve because you can hit it as hard as you want, and you have more possibilities to put it in.
WTA Insider: How would you describe your personality?
Sakkari: On court, I think I'm a player, because I'm from Sparta - my dad is from Sparta - so I have the Spartan inside me, and I give my heart and everything until the last point. I'm good fighter, and I run for every single ball. Outside of the court, everyone says I'm smiling all the time, a happy person. That's the thing: I'm a happy person, and I'm always positive.
Follow Sakkari on Twitter @mariasakkari!
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.