MADRID — Maria Sakkari strolled up to the mixed zone at the Mutua Madrid Open with a little extra pep in her step. She was just off court after a clinical 6-1, 6-3 win over Rouen champion Sloane Stephens, when she got a phone call from her mother, former WTA player Angeliki Kanellopoulou.

“My mom, right now, she is playing tennis for the first time in 20 years, back home at my club in Tatoi with my former hitting partner, Gianni,” Sakkari said.

“She says she has my racquet. I’m like ‘Mom, I don’t think my racquet will help you very much. It’s a very heavy and stiff racquet.’

“Maybe she can play an invitational tournament at the Grand Slams. That would be the dream.”

When a reporter asked if Maria inspired her mom, she smiled.

“I hope so.”

There’s a lot to smile about in the Sakkari camp these days. After what she would consider a sub-par 2023 campaign, Sakkari has bounced back to become a draw threat once again.

Back up to World No.6, the 28-year-old from Greece has made the quarterfinals or better in her last three tournaments. That’s no small feat considering the quality of those three events. The turnaround began with her run to the Indian Wells final. The came the quarterfinals in Miami. Her transition to clay was quick but successful. She was a semifinalist in Charleston.

After a busy and successful international call-up for Billie Jean King Cup, Sakkari has continued her surge in Madrid. She has not lost a set, beating Donna Vekic before ending Stephens’ seven-match winning streak in the third round.

“I feel like the difference is that I’m trusting myself more,” Sakkari said. “I feel like I’m a different player nowadays because I’m more consistent every match that I play.

“The way I play right now is just different from how it was before. For sure that changed with David [Witt]he has played a huge role because I feel so different when I’m on the court.”

After hiring Witth ahead of Indian Wells, Sakkari is an outstanding 12-3. Her three losses? The two winningest players on tour in World No.1 Iga Swiatek and No.4 Elena Ryabakina, and Danielle Collins, who is currently riding a 14-match winning streak.

Madrid is Sakkari’s first European clay-court event of the season and the 2021 French Open semifinalist hasn’t missed a beat so far. She credits Witt’s ability to quiet down the noise in her head by keeping things simple.

“It’s not a tactical thing,” Sakkari said. “I’m keeping it more simple and that’s how David is. He’s not overcomplicated things — not that Tom [Hill, her former coach] was. I have a lot of love for Tom.

“But the way David is, he’s very ‘1, 2, 3,’ nothing overcomplicated or overanalyzing. I feel like that’s what works for me best at this stage of my career.”

A semifinalist in Madrid last year, Sakkari will face either 11th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia or 19th seed Emma Navarro for a spot in her fourth consecutive tournament quarterfinal. She lost to eventual champion Aryna Sabalenka in that semifinal, but it was her best result on the clay that season. She bowed out in the opening round at Roland Garros and Stuttgart and the third round of Rome.

“I just felt like the last few years I was a little bit confused myself on how I have to play on clay,'” Sakkari said. “Now I have a clear idea that I just have to do what I do on hard courts but just with little adjustments. Points are longer, you have to be a little more patient, but you still have to hit the ball. If you try to be defensive, nowadays, it doesn’t work.”

“Now, after chatting to David about it, now I know what to do. Hopefully, I can have a better clay-court season than last year.”


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