After first-round exits at the last three Grand Slams, Maria Sakkari said she was relieved to win her opening match at the Australian Open on Sunday, the Greek eighth seed advancing with a 6-4 6-1 victory over Japan’s Nao Hibino.
Sakkari has consistently been ranked in the top 10 in recent years but failed to shine at the majors. Reaching the third round at Melbourne Park was the highlight of her Grand Slam appearances last year.
However, the 28-year-old looked a player transformed on Sunday as she fired off 18 winners and completely dismantled Hibino’s game to clinch the win in just over 70 minutes.
“(I’m feeling) super good because after losing three first rounds in the last three Grand Slams, that was very important for me. I was quite nervous before going into the match, but now I feel relieved,” Sakkari told reporters.
“Overall, despite the nerves and the anxiety and the stress, I think that I was able to – especially in that second set – play a little bit of the tennis that I’ve been playing the last couple of months.
“I’m just feeling very good with my game because I really did some changes. I really worked hard. Believe it or not, I put more hours than usually. I had a very good pre-season. I think things will start clicking sometime soon.”
Sakkari also detailed some of the changes she had made during her preparations for the 2024 campaign.
“I changed my racket. It’s a completely new frame. After 10 years using the same racket, that was a big change for me,” she added.
“I changed a little bit of my forehand, worked a lot on that because I felt like I had a very good forehand, but it could be a lot better. So now I’m feeling that it’s my best shot, very powerful, and for sure the racket has helped.”
Sakkari next faces Elina Avanesyan of Russia in the second round on Wednesday.