Like the final in Brisbane, Greece, the top seeds at the inaugural United Cup, were taken to the deciding Mixed Doubles rubber to secure their 3-2 overall victory against a strong Croatian challenge at the RAC Arena in Perth.
I’m happy we pulled this through. I’m proud of the team, Fighters is what defines us. That first big step we took here in Perth is going to remain memorable Stefanos Tsitsipas
It was left to their top players, Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas, to pull them through what was a tense deciding rubber against Borna Gojo and Petra Martic but they held firm and duly delivered the win expected of them, 7-6(6) 6-4.
“I am so happy and proud of this team, I just cannot put it in words,” said Sakkari. “Coming in here, it’s the first tournament of the year, you don’t know what kind of form you are in, but I think we saw that we are in pretty good form!”
“I’m happy we pulled this through. I’m proud of the team,” said Tsitsipas. “Fighters is what defines us. That first big step we took here in Perth is going to remain memorable. I’m happy we started in Perth, I wished for it… Let me just say, we might be in Sydney, but our heart remains here.”
Both Sakkari and Tsitsipas were on form as regards their respective serves, regularly hitting their spots including 8 aces, during the 94-minute contest during which time, neither faced a break point.
“I think our first mixed doubles was on this court,” said Sakkari who partnered Tstsipas in the now defunct Hopman Cup. “Our games are just clicking. We know each other really well and we have great chemistry on the court, and I think that’s the key. Of course, the more we develop the more as players, that’s also something that adds up and makes us play a lot better on the mixed doubles for sure.”
Team Greece will next take on Team Italy in the semi-finals across Friday and Saturday in Sydney, where Team Poland and Team USA will contest the other Final-Four tie.
Earlier in the day, Donna Vekic had kicked off the tie with a comprehensive 64-minute 6-2 6-0 drubbing of Despina Papamichail, giving Croatia an early 1-0 lead. However, Tsitsipas drew level at 1-1 after coming from 4-1 down in the third set to beat Borna Coric for the first time 6-0 6-7(4) 7-5.
Sakkari then pulled Greece ahead 2-1 after defeating Martic 6-3 6-3, only for Gojo to triumph 6-4 6-2 against the 18-year-old Stefanos Sakellaridis to level the tie at 2-2 and force a mixed doubles decider.
The clash of the two teams’ top female players saw Sakkari deliver a fine serving performance to shut out Martic. She was broken just once and only faced break points in two games. By contrast, Martic’s serve was ineffective in comparison.
Both players fired 19 winners apiece, but Sakkari demonstrated more consistency and better execution on big points as she broke for 5-3 in the first set, and then kept a firm hand on proceedings with a sequence of forehands to capture Martic’s serve again at the start of the second set.
Sakkari gave Martic few opportunities on return, but the Croat was largely unable to take her half-chances and just managed to avoid going a double break down and failed to convert two break back points in the penultimate game of the match.
Gojo hit back on Croatia’s behalf with an authoritative win over the teenage Sakellaridis who was unable to repeat his heroics of the previous day when he sealed Croatia’s win against France. An error-strewn opening service game saw him drop serve immediately from which point he struggled to get a foothold though he demonstrated he had the potential to climb the rankings firing 16 winners, three more than Gojo.
And so the tie was decided with the mixed doubles leaving Croatia hoping to qualify for the Final Four as the best losing team but that didn’t prove to be the case – Italy, who also lost their tie against Poland in the deciding fifth rubber, got the wild card.