Karate kid Sakkari chases Wimbledon dream
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Maria Sakkari made the Wimbledon third round for the first time on Wednesday, 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 last-16 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.