The Greek star was a point from falling behind 1-5 in the opening set before steamrolling the German veteran to reach her second straight WTA semifinal in 73 minutes on Margaret Court Arena.
“It was great playing back on this amazing court with a crowd after an entire year,” she told Jelena Dokic during her on-court interview. “It means a lot to the players to play with the crowd. I have my Greeks here, which feels great. That’s the first thing I look forward to when I come to Australia.”
With Melbourne’s large Greek population, the No. 5 seed, who began the season with a semifinal run in Abu Dhabi, enjoyed enthusiastic support even as she took on a former Australian Open champion in Kerber, who also reached the semifinals in 2018.
Seeded No. 8 in a draw comprised of players relegated to 14 days of hard quarantine, Kerber edged past tricky opposition in Katerina Siniakova and Ons Jabeur, and was in fine form early against Sakkari, emerging from an exchange of breaks to lead 4-1 in the first set.
Not to be outdone, Sakkari, who spent her hotel quarantine debuting her “Sparring with a Spartan” fitness web series, showed off her maintained physical stamina despite losing two weeks of on-court action, and reeled off the next nine games before Kerber could again get on the board.
“I really like to play the week before a Slam because if you only practice, you’re so stressed about the tournament. At least here, I’m stressed about this tournament and not worrying about next week.”
Approaching victory with a calm demeanor, Sakkari swatted away a forehand winner—her 26th of the match—to book a final four clash with No. 6 seed Anett Kontaveit, who advanced when former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka withdrew from the tournament, citing a lower back injury.
“This is my home tournament,” Sakkari told the crowd, having converted five of six break point opportunities against Kerber. “I don’t have a professional tournament back home, so every time I come back, it feels like I’m at home, not only because of the Greeks but because the entire Australian crowd is very nice, and you’re all very nice people.”
Later in the day, Jennifer Brady navigated a first set tie-break to solve rising Czech star Barbora Krejcikova, 7-6(5), 6-4.
Brady began her ascent up the WTA rankings in Australia last year, when she shocked Maria Sharapova at the Brisbane International and enjoyed a post-lockdown swing that included a maiden WTA title in Lexington and a fairytale run to the US Open semifinals.
After the completion of play, WTA revealed the tournament's final will not be staged due to the Australian Open beginning Monday. Players advancing to the title match on Sunday will each receive finalist points and prize money.