By Reem Abulleil
Maria Sakkari has always been open about the mental challenges tennis players have to deal with on a weekly basis on tour.
In a sport like tennis, all players aim for victories but somehow must prepare themselves to lose almost every week, considering there is only one eventual champion in the entire draw.
Sakkari woke up on Thursday morning in Madrid and watched a viral video of her fellow Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo, who articulately responded to a question about whether he considered his NBA season to be a failure after the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated by the Miami Heat in round one of the playoffs overnight.
Antetokounmpo said: “It’s not a failure, it’s steps to success. Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championships. The other nine years were a failure? It’s the wrong question, there’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days; some days you are able to be successful, some days you’re not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. And that’s what sport is about, you don’t always win.”
Sakkari, who is good friends with Antetokounmpo, found his comments particularly inspiring and admired his ability to deal with a tough defeat with such a clear perspective.
“I was happy that someone like him spoke about it and just maybe it’s a wake-up call for everyone outside of sports to understand what it means, that when you lose or when you don’t achieve your goals, it’s not the end of the world,” said Sakkari following her 6-4, 6-4 win over qualifier Arantxa Rus in the Madrid second round.
“Despite his loss, I’m sure he’s very disappointed that he didn’t make it further, but the way he’s handling it and his whole mentality is just very unique. That’s why he’s one of the best in the world and that’s why for me he’s my idol. Because not only is he a freak as an athlete, I think also mentally he’s a freak.
“He always says that tennis is the toughest sport and he spoke to me about how tough our sport is and I think he admires individual sports in general. That’s why I think that he has also improved so much because he sees himself as an individual but then involved in a team, because he’s carrying a team. Tennis is a sport where we lose every week and you have to go again, just erase it and start again from zero.”
Sakkari is seeded No.9 at this year’s Mutua Madrid Open and she is hoping she can finally take advantage of the favourable conditions and make it far in the tournament.
Her best result in the Spanish capital so far came two years ago when she reached the last-16 stage.
“I like the conditions here because the ball flies, it’s quick, it’s warm, it’s not like a heavy clay-court tournament, so it suits my game. My kick serve is very effective, my forehand as well. So, so far so good,” said Sakkari, who bravely saved three break points in the final game before closing out the contest in one hour 35 minutes.
“She is what we call a clay-court player, she has played so many tournaments, especially ITFs this year, on clay,” said Sakkari of Rus.
“She was more prepared than me but I think I had the strategy the right way and I almost did it the entire match. I feel good because that for me was my first clay-court match.”
Sakkari’s next test comes against in-form Spaniard Rebeka Masarova, who knocked out Donna Vekic 6-1, 7-6(5) on Thursday.
“I haven’t really watched her play, I know she has a big game and I’m excited to play someone new,” said Sakkari of Masarova, who reached the final at the W100 tournament in Oeiras just last week.