Karate kid Maria Sakkari chases Wimbledon dream

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Maria Sakkari made the Wimbledon third round for the first time yes­ter­day, count­ing her bless­ings that she once got the chop from a karate class. The 21-year-old from Athens de­fied her world rank­ing of 101 to knock out 44th-ranked Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Repub­lic 6-7 (6/8), 6-4, 6-4. Sakkari ad­mit­ted that had things turned out dif­fer­ently when she was a young­ster, her sport­ing ca­reer may have taken an­other di­rec­tion. “When I was a child, I did swim­ming, run­ning, bal­let and even karate,” said Sakkari who will face Bri­tish sixth seed Jo­hanna Konta for a last16 spot. “But I got kicked out of karate class on the first day I went be­cause I was laugh­ing so much. It all just seemed so funny to me. “I only went be­cause my brother Yan­nis went. He stayed but I didn’t.

“There was no way I could have been a pro­fes­sional.” De­spite Sakkari’s progress in the sport-she also made the third round at the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary-ten­nis still lags be­hind foot­ball and bas­ket­ball in Greece. Even her match on Court 14 on Wed­nes­day failed to trans­late into a live tele­vi­sion event back home.

Sakkari’s mother An­ge­liki was a pro­fes­sional player on the WTA Tour, reach­ing the third round at the French Open in 1985 and 1987. It took Amer­i­can le­gend Chris Evert to stop her mother, who played un­der her maiden name of Kanel­lopoulou, the first time in Paris. In 1986, her mother reached a ca­reer high of 48 in the world but re­tired at the age of 25 to start a fam­ily.

“My mother didn’t re­ally want me to go into pro­fes­sional ten­nis. She thought it was too hard a life,” said Sakkari who moved to Barcelona at age 18 to train and play.

Her mother only played Wimbledon once when she was a first round loser in 1986. Now Sakkari, who also flour­ished as a track run­ner in her child­hood, has bet­tered that mark even if her com­pa­tri­ots may be slow to ap­pre­ci­ate it. “Some times I get recog­nised at home,” she added. “Wimbledon is fol­lowed but ten­nis is not that big. It’s be­hind foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and run­ning but it’s get­ting big­ger.” She cer­tainly had to fight on Wed­nes­day to make the third round for the first time.

She gave up a 5-3 lead in the first set be­fore drop­ping the opener and then trailed 4-1 in the sec­ond set. Pliskova, the tow­er­ing twin sis­ter of world num­ber three and ti­tle favourite Karolina, also had points for a 5-1 lead be­fore her game dis­in­te­grated. Sakkari broke in the fifth game of the de­cid­ing set and sur­vived a nasty-look­ing fall into the net be­fore she com­posed her­self to take vic­tory. — AFP

LON­DON: Ger­many’s Maria Sakkari returns to Czech Repub­lic’s Kristyna Plisko­vaon day three at the Wimbledon Ten­nis Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don yes­ter­day. — AP

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