NEW YORK, NY, USA – 13-seeded Maria Sakkari recovered from the brink of defeat to shock two-time Western & Southern Open champion Serena Williams, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-1 to roar in a second quarter of consecutive final to Cincy.
Sakkari, which started the week with a decisive victory over the fit American teenager Cori “Coco” Gauff, followed by a set and a break in his first meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam champion, before moving on to the final set after two hours and 17 minutes on the court in the stands.
Williams, who was two points from defeat in his opening round against Arantxa Rus, arrived in court after a late afternoon storm delayed action by 90 minutes, but enjoyed a smooth start, moving forward 5-2 on the strength of a first serve break.
Sakkari, which started 2020 with a first run of the second week of the Grand Slam at the Australian Open, soon settled down and capitalized on some stray shots from the # 3 seed to level the set to five games apiece. Seeking to avoid another tie-break, Williams turned the tables on the 25-year-old to wipe out the last two games.
Shaking off the interrupted momentum, Sakkari started the second set with another break, moving forward 3-1 before Williams regained their bearings, resuming the next four games to find themselves serving for the match.
Williams, who reached the last eight in her return to action at the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopedics with a win over her older sister Venus, was two points from victory when Sakkari stepped in to earn a late break point and level the set again.
As in the opening set, Serena responded with a solid serve to put pressure back on Sakkari, who forced a tie-break with a hard-fought hold.
The sudden death that followed saw Sakkari reverse a 4-1 disadvantage as Williams pulled some shot attempts from the back line and the number 13 seed was the first to set the set with a major serve. With a deciding set in sight, Sakkari hit a booming forehand to level the match.
He maintained that aggressive form early in the final set, hitting another impressive winner to design break points in Williams’ first serve game. What followed was an upside-down streak of seven twos before Sakkari eventually converted his eighth chance.
Sakkari took total control from there, leaping a 5-0 lead due to frustration and physical difficulties for the former world No. 1. Nonetheless, he saved seven match points as he served to stay in the game, fighting bravely from the back of the field.
With the match on his racquet, Sakkari hit a searing forehand and eventually crossed the finish line in his eighth match point.
In all, the 13th seed scored two more winners (27 to 25) and 15 fewer mistakes (43 to 58), converting five of 19 break point opportunities while maintaining a 59% first serve rate. , getting seven aces to Williams’ nine.
Between Sakkari and the third semi-final of Premier 5 is British No. 1 Johanna Konta, who overtook former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva in sets in a row earlier in the day.