WATCH: Sakkari has won all six sets played against Swiatek in 2021, including Thursday's round robin clash.


The importance of match-ups has been a common theme in women’s tennis over the last decade. Much as fans equate compelling rivalries with even head-to-heads, players are loathe to drastically change their style to unsettle different opponents, allowing history to repeat itself early and often.

Such is becoming the case for Maria Sakkari, who scored a third straight win over 2020 Roland Garros champ Iga Swiatek, 6-2, 6-4 to take the early lead in Group Chichén Itzá.

"I actually have a good game to play against her," Sakkari said after the match. "All three times I played her, I played one of the best matches of the season. Like even today, I think I was very solid in these conditions."

Sakkari first stormed past Swiatek to reach the semifinals in Paris this spring, snapping the Pole’s 10-match winning streak—one that had many penciling her in as the presumptive favorite to defend her maiden major title.

She backed up that surprising win indoors in Ostrava and reduced the 20-year-old Swiatek to tears on Thursday as she secured victory in just under 90 minutes on Estadio Tenis Akron.

"More than anything we're human," Sakkari explained of their subsequent hug at net. "Okay, it's another tennis match. She's only 20 years old. She's going to have many more chances than I'll have in the future because it's only the beginning for her.

I saw that she was struggling. It wasn't a nice thing to see from the other side of the net. She's a very, very nice girl. I mean, we always have great practices and great chats."

Opting out of an in-person press conference, Swiatek has indeed been decidedly out of sorts since her defeat in Paris. Making just one quarterfinal since, she struck 29 errors and is yet to solve her Greek rival despite possessing a high tennis IQ along with one of the game’s more adaptable styles.

As for Sakkari, her dominance of Swiatek has been one of her strongest certainties in 2021: as well as she’s played to reach seven semifinals—including two at major tournaments—the 26-year-old only won one, and famously lost sleep over her inability to convert match points against Barbora Krejcikova at Roland Garros.

This time it was Swiatek who appeared in the midst of a haunting defeat, picking up a time violation as she collected herself on match point.

While both women were making their WTA Finals debuts, it was Sakkari who enjoyed a marvelous serving day, winning 96% of first serve points while breaking Swiatek three times. Putting down a performance reminiscent of her US Open quarterfinal demolition of Karolina Pliskova, Sakkari will need to replicate as much of this level as possible if she hopes to make it out of a group that includes top seed Aryna Sabalenka and BNP Paribas Open champion Paula Badosa.