Is 2023 Maria Sakkari's Year?

maria sakkari
Is 2023 Maria Sakkari's Year?Will Russell - Getty Images

"It's an addiction."

"It's hard for me to even put into words how it feels when you hear that 'game, set, match,'" Maria Sakkari says of winning in Break Point, Netflix's new docuseries about the world of professional tennis.

Sakkari, the Greek 27-year-old ranked number 6 in the world, features in the first batch of episodes that dropped this weekend. Like many of the athletes involved in the show, she's hoping that Break Point will lead to their beloved sport reaching a wider fanbase—and show the realities of life on the professional tour.

When we spoke, Sakkari hadn't seen all of Break Point. (Instead, she just finished watching Emily in Paris season three.) She was waiting for the show to officially premiere, so she could watch as she prepares to compete in the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year.

That said, she has seen her episode. Each episode of Break Point follows one or two players at a specific tournament—Sakkari features in episode three—"California Dreaming—her story interwoven with that of American Taylor Fritz. It follows both of them at the Indian Wells tournament in March 2022, where Fritz eventually wins (defeating Rafael Nadal), and Sakkari makes it to the finals, before ultimately losing to Iga Swiatek.

"It was weird," she tells Town & Country over Zoom of watching herself. "It's unusual to see myself from that view, but also on the other hand, it was nice to remind myself how it was those two weeks and how last season went."

In 2022, Sakkari was a finalist at four tournaments on the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tour, including at Indian Wells. She's won over $8 million in prize money over her career and is looking to go on a deep run at this year's Australian Open. Could 2023 be the year she wins big?

Sakkari is optimistic. "I already feel like I've changed a few things during preseason," she says. "I wanna really challenge myself to see, in situations like last year, how I'm going to handle them. I believe I now have the experience."

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SakkariSarah Stier - Getty Images

Sakkari, born and raised in Athens, Greece, comes from a family of professional tennis players—something of a tennis nepo baby, if that exists. Her mom, Angelikí Kanellopoúlou, and her grandfather, Dimítrios Kanellopoúlos, both played professionally.

Yet, she has surpassed both of them, and nearly every other Greek tennis player in history, becoming the highest-ranked Greek women's player of all time. (She's tied for the highest-ranked Greek player of all time with Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was also raised in a tennis family. Both Tsitsipas and Sakkari have a career-high ranking of world number 3.)

Her mom appears in the show, telling her daughter, "You know what Maria? The most important thing is to enjoy what you're doing. Because if you're happy on court, you'll perform better." In a voice-over, Maria shares, "My mom was a professional tennis player. She was the one who made tennis in Greece an actual sport."

Angelikí then shares, "Maria has sacrificed a lot from a young age. Only her own demons or an injury can keep her out from the tennis court. Because tennis players don't just lose to their opponents, they lose to themselves."

break point maria sakkari in break point cr courtesy of netflix © 2023
The Greek tennis star features in the third episode of Netflix’s Break Point.Netflix

Filming Break Point was a resoundingly positive experience for her. "I'm very happy I was a part of it," she says. The camera crew took some time to get used to, but soon, they became part of her team. "They were not interfering, they wouldn't ask me to do anything unusual while I was working," Sakkari explains. "It was like they weren't there."

The crew, too, became invested in their players. "You always think, okay, I have to be neutral, I have to think about how to tell the story the best we possibly can," showrunner Kari Lia tells Town & Country. "But that went out the window quite quickly, because you can't help but fall in love with the people we're filming with—and really care about them."

Sakkari compliments the Netflix team for how they worked with the tennis players, thanks to their experience on F1: Drive to Survive. "They knew how to cope with athletes," she says with a laugh, "Which is important, because we are a different—in a good way and a bad way. We have our routines, our superstitions, and it's not easy."

break point maria sakkari in break point cr courtesy of netflix © 2023
Maria Sakkari in Break PointNetflix

Lia explains that Break Point's goal was not to simply give a diary of the 2022 season, but rather, focus on the personal journeys of the players they follow—the wins, the losses, and everything in between. "A couple weeks ago we are started showing the players [the episodes]," Lia tells T&C. "You're showing them in their highs and their lows. And the thing that I was so happy with is that they really have loved their episodes. They recognize themselves and they think it's totally true to their year. We show tough bits, we show the hard moments, and so you never know how that's gonna [go over], but they felt like it was really true to the experience that we talked about having with them."

At one point in her episode, Sakkari talks about the toll the sport has on her. After a brutal loss in the semifinals of the 2021 French Open, she says she couldn't sleep for days. She was nervous—and sad. "I told my coaches I wanted to retire from tennis. And I retired for four days. I was on a Greek island, and I called [my coach] Tom, and said, 'Okay, when can we start practicing again?' Coming back from retirement, that’s what we’ve been calling it."

How does she get back on the court? "Time always helps," she says. "And, the passion that I have—that's one thing I believe I show on the court, the love I have for the sport. I know I'm not even close to retirement!"

Those four days, she says, were a tough moment of her career. But it was a good decision to take a few days off. "Overall, I look back, and it's funny, because we call it my 'retirement,'" she says, using air quotes around retirement. "But it wasn't like that, it was just a few days off."

She's grateful for moments like that. "If your career is too stable, and you don't have anything suspenseful happening in your life, it's boring. I look back and see that I can learn from every single situation—it was nice to have that moment and overcome it." If anything, watching back Break Point gives her new drive for 2023. Yet, as she sagely shares in her episode, "We all learn how to lose. Unless you are Roger, Rafa, or Novak—that's a different story. The rest of us, we are going to lose more than we win."

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Tomljanovic says of Sakkari, "On the court, she’s so intense. Off the court, she’s a teddy bear."Vaughn Ridley - Getty Images

Winning or losing, Sakkari takes a remarkably calm approach to the start of the season. "It's gonna be a tough season, everyone's playing well. It's just another season. Another year, traveling the world, and doing what I love."

Doing what she loves—with maybe, hopefully, a few more eyeballs on the sport.

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