Greece's Maria Sakkari celebrates during her hard-fought victory against teenager Diana Shnaider
Melbourne (AFP) - Maria Sakkari survived a scare against college student Diana Shnaider at the Australian Open on Wednesday, grinding out victory in a bad-tempered match that she thought she “was gonna lose”.
The Greek sixth-seed narrowly avoided the biggest upset of the year’s opening Grand Slam so far by eventually coming through 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 to reach the third round.
Shnaider, an 18-year-old qualifier from Russia who studies at North Carolina State, pushed Sakkari all the way in a 2hr 33min examination on Margaret Court Arena.
“It was extremely tough. There were moments in the match where I thought I was gonna lose, but then my belief somehow woke me up,” Sakkari told reporters.
The hard-hitting Shnaider broke Sakkari’s opening serve and showed huge guts to save three break-back points and secure the opening set in 48 minutes on her fifth set point.
“I would say that in the first set I felt that (I would lose), because I could not feel my game,” Sakkari said.
“I was very defensive. I haven’t been feeling like that in a long time. But then I think because I have worked a lot of hours I was able to find a way.”
Sakkari, one of the pre-tournament favourites, got back on track at the start of the second set, breaking Shnaider’s opening service game and opening a 3-0 lead.
But again Shnaider fought back, saving four set points before Sakkari took it to a decider.
- Screaming celebrations-
“It’s never easy to play someone that you’ve never played before, you’ve never seen on the tour,” said Sakkari, who is seeking a maiden Grand Slam title.
“I was a little bit hesitant, she was swinging very hard, playing very aggressive,” she added of the world number 106.
The Greek became increasingly tetchy as the match dragged on, complaining to the umpire about the Russian’s continual screaming celebrations when she won a point.
“During a match, you can be very pumped,” Sakkari explained. “But the way that some players celebrate their points, it’s not appropriate. I wasn’t happy with that.
“But, you know, she never did it again. That was very nice of her. So that was it.”
Shnaider again broke back against Sakkari in the third set, but the sixth seed managed to regroup and take the match.
Despite the defeat, it had been the best performance of the gritty Shnaider’s fledgling career.
A year ago the teenager was ranked outside the top 1,000 and two weeks ago she lost in the first round of qualifying at the Auckland Classic.
She gave no clue in her first-round match that she might run the 27-year-old Sakkari so close, taking almost two hours to edge the 272nd-ranked Slovakian, Kristina Kucova, 7-6 (8⁄6), 7-5.
“I think that she played an amazing match,” said Sakkari.
“The power she has in her forehand and on her serve, I haven’t seen that in a while from a young player.
“Maybe she should consider not going to college and playing pro instead.”
Sakkari will play either Jil Teichmann, the number 32 seed from Switzerland, or China’s Zhu Lin in the third round.