Friday, January 22, 2021

Sakkari ousts Gauff to make Abu Dhabi round of 16

ABU DHABI, U.A.E. — No.9 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece claimed the final spot in the round of 16 at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open, defeating 16-year-old American Coco Gauff, 7-5, 6-2 in the Saturday nightcap.

Sakkari had notched a straight-set win over Gauff in their sole previous meeting, which came at the Western & Southern Open in New York last season. The Greek had to come back from a double-break down in the first set to repeat the feat in Abu Dhabi, eventually clinching an 85-minute victory over the World No.48 from the United States.

“I just found solutions and got the win, and I still have one more chance to play better,” Sakkari told the media, after her victory.

“I just stayed patient; I knew that I had a bad start, but I couldn’t just keep on playing that way, so I had to change something,” the Greek player continued. “I’d have to say it worked out pretty well.”

World No.22 Sakkari had 18 winners to Gauff’s eight in the match, and the Greek also had two fewer unforced errors than the American. The victor broke her opponent six times out of her 13 break points as she completed the third-round lineup in the season’s first event.

Sakkari, one of three Greeks who contested the main draw, will now face former World No.1 Garbiñe Muguruza in the third round, after Muguruza eliminated Aliaksandra Sasnovich earlier on Friday. It will be the first meeting between Sakkari and Muguruza.

“We all know [Muguruza is] a great champion, she’s won a couple of majors,” said Sakkari. “She has been a very good player all these years.”

“We’ve never played each other, we’ve practiced just once,” Sakkari added. “I haven’t experienced her in a match, but it’s going to be very tough because I think the court suits her well, fast surface. I’m really looking forward to playing her, to be honest.”

It was, in fact, Gauff who got off to a hot start in the tilt. The young American fought through a protracted opening game to earn a break on her fourth break point, then took control with her serve to consolidate for 2-0. After another break came her way, the teenager held a commanding 3-0 lead.

Sakkari staged a comeback, reeling off four games in a row with increased groundstroke effectiveness. On the other side of the net, Gauff’s miscues mounted, and the American dropped serve at love to cede a fifth straight game and a 5-3 lead to Sakkari.

When trying to close out the set, however, Sakkari stumbled, and it was her turn to drop serve at love. Back on serve at 5-4, Gauff withstood a set point before claiming an all-court rally with a divine volley to reach game point for 5-5. The American converted that chance after Sakkari had a service return fly long.

At the end of the set, though, Sakkari eked ahead. The Greek found the lines to power her way to a hold for 6-5, then drew errors from her American opponent in the following game to zip to double set point. Gauff saved the first with a strong crosscourt forehand, but on the second, Sakkari once again had pinpoint accuracy, slamming a forehand winner square on the baseline.

After saving three break points with excellent serves to hold for 2-1 in the second set, Sakkari started to take control of the affair for good. The Greek won another lengthy game, forcing a volley error from Gauff with a crosscourt backhand to take a 3-1 lead on her third break chance of that tussle.

Sakkari eased through her remaining service games en route to a 5-2 lead, and cruised to double match point then and there after a fierce forehand forced a wide error from Gauff. The American saved the first match point with a solid serve, but Sakkari fired one final forehand winner to wrap up the match and fill in the final pending slot in the round of 16.

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