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Maria Sakkari leans on experience to earn Rome revenge over Coco Gauff
The 26-year-old Greek earned a 6-4, 7-5 victory that proved a narrow triumph of experience over youth, booking a spot in her first clay-court quarterfinal of the year.
Published May 12, 2022
WATCH: Maria Sakkari defeats Coco Gauff in their 2022 Rome third-round match
One movie line that never goes out of style held true tonight in Rome during a round of 16 match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia between Maria Sakkari and Coco Gauff: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Those words were spoken in All About Eve, the 1950 movie that won the Oscar for Best Picture.
It was anticipated that this would be the case again on Thursday. Though Sakkari had won three of their four prior matches, Gauff’s victory had come in Rome a year ago, by the highly bumpy score of 6-1, 1-6, 6-1.
Tonight was Sakkari’s turn. The 26-year-old Greek earned a 6-4, 7-5 victory that proved a narrow triumph of experience over youth. Sakkari is now in the quarterfinals of a clay-court event for the first time this year. She’d previously lost her opening match in Stuttgart and in the second round last week in Madrid.
Tight as the score was, Sakkari was dominant for a good deal of the match. Superb movement, accuracy and oodles of balls directed to Gauff’s weaker forehand put Sakkari firmly in control at 6-4, 3-2, 40-15.
Gauff also served terribly through these early stages: In the first set, she struck three double-faults and converted a miserable 32 percent of her first serves.
And yet, as in control as Sakkari was, as much as history favored her versus Gauff, there were other past factors in play. High-stakes matches can get tricky for Sakkari. The most notable example of this was in her crushing loss last year to Barbora Krejcikova in the semis of Roland Garros, where Sakkari had held a match point. “I got stressed on the match point; I was passive. It’s a rookie mistake. I didn’t go for it. I was a little bit defensive in the big points. Good thing is that I learned from it. It’s human emotion,” Sakkari said that day in Paris.
Indeed, Sakkari’s candor is just one of her many endearing qualities. Watch the way she conducts herself—in practice, versus opponents, with officials and the public—and you see all the signs of an exemplary veteran.
Gauff, who turned 18 in March, has yet to go that far at a major—or accumulate the scar tissue of such painful losses. She’s also made her way up the ranks with a strong work ethic and those arguably unteachable attributes that define a fantastic competitor. This has been clear since Gauff’s junior days. At the age of 13 in the 2017 US Open girls’ singles final, Gauff fought off nine match points before losing to Amanda Anisimova.
Sure enough, a significant transitional moment came in that sixth game on Grandstand. At 40-15, Sakkari over-hit a forehand. The next point might eventually make its way onto a Gauff highlight reel. Sakkari feathered a mildly viable forehand drop shot. In sprinted Gauff, who after driving a deep backhand, fell to the court, took a 360-degree tumble and then got back up swiftly enough to hit two volleys that closed out the point. This was one of those cases where one point carries far more value. Gauff broke, held, and soon Sakkari was serving at 3-4.
At this point, a third set seemed a reasonable scenario. But Sakkari held tough, acing Gauff to reach 4-all. Serving at 4-5, Sakkari loudly yelled “Come on!” and again leveled the set, her energy and fitness seemingly daring Gauff to up the ante. Gauff couldn’t quite do that, miscuing twice at 5-all on makeable backhands to go down 15-40. Though a deft-angled forehand volley fought off the first break point, at 30-40 Gauff lined a down-the-line backhand into the net.
Even then, could Sakkari close it out? Here she played one of her best games of the match. On the opening point, Sakkari capped off an arduous rally with a forehand winner. Quickly up 40-love, Sakkari patrolled the court well enough to squeeze out a netted Gauff backhand drop shot.
Finally, it was time to take off her seat belt and relax.