I’m ready to see what 2023 is going to bring,” declared Maria Sakkari, as a big smile radiated across her face.
Speaking to ausopen.com in Perth, where she began the season representing Greece at the United Cup, the world No.6 exuded an undeniable sense of calm.
The 27-year-old’s happy disposition will please her many fans, who witnessed Sakkari experience an emotional rollercoaster in 2022.
Shortly after peaking at a career-high world No.3, a stressed Sakkari admitted she was “not enjoying being one of the best players in the world”. Early exits at Grand Slam tournaments compounded the pressure.
Yet after some inner reflection, the resilient Sakkari bounced back to finish the season strongly. She reached a WTA 1000 final at Guadalajara and then made a semifinal appearance at the elite WTA Finals.
“I’m super proud of myself. It wasn’t easy,” she said, acknowledging a second year-end top-10 finish “meant a lot”.
Those confidence-boosting performances helped Sakkari relax during the recent off-season, where she enjoyed time in Belgium with her boyfriend. “That was all I needed,” she said. “I rested, just spent time with him and recharged my batteries.”
A refreshed and refocused Sakkari is now happy to be in Australia.
“I think that it’s the perfect place to start the year,” she said.
“The Australian culture is very special and unique. Everyone is really nice. There’s a large Greek community here too, so I do enjoy that a lot. I feel like I’m at home, especially in Melbourne, because everywhere I go, I can hear Greek.
“The weather is great. The tournaments are very well organised. You’re still a little tired from the preseason, so you want to come to a nice place with a nice climate. I don’t think you could pick a better place than Australia.”
Her more positive mindset was evident throughout last week’s United Cup, an experience she described as “a lot of fun”.
“I can tell you it’s a lot better than last year. Last year I was in Adelaide. I didn’t want to be there. I felt like the gap between the WTA Finals and Adelaide was very, very small last year. I was not used to that. It was very emotional, you know, the end of the season, and I just was not ready to start again (in) 2022,” she explained.
“This year I had the experience from what I felt last year to try and, you know, handle it better.”
Sakkari embraced the opportunity to compete at the inaugural United Cup, acknowledging competing alongside her Greek compatriots helped alleviate pressure in the opening week of the season.
“We are witnessing very unique moments, and we get to share all this joy and all this happiness all together,” she said. “It makes my time here in Australia and my preparation for the Australian Open a lot easier.”
After steering Greece into the semifinals alongside world No.4 and long-time friend Stefanos Tsitsipas at the mixed team event, Sakkari will fine-tune her Australian Open preparations in Melbourne this week.
Sakkari’s previous best results at Melbourne Park are fourth-round runs in 2020 and 2022.
The highest-ranked Greek woman in history is aiming much higher in her eighth consecutive Australian Open main-draw appearance.
“I want to win the Australian Open,” she stated. “I believe that I’m in good form, but you never know in tennis how things go. I’m going to try my best and try to stay as long as I can.
“I love Australia, I think you guys know that by now. I just want to spend the maximum amount of time here that I can.