NEW YORK (Reuters) -Maria Sakkari leveraged her powerful serve and excellent court coverage to reach the U.S. Open semi-finals with a 6-4 6-4 victory over Karolina Pliskova on Wednesday and dedicated her win to the people of Greece, who have endured a summer of brutal wildfires.
Sakkari was rock solid throughout the win on Arthur Ashe Stadium, hounding Pliskova into mistakes and getting an early break before going on take the first set.
The Greek 17th seed maintained the aggression in the second set, converting on break point in the seventh game as 2016 runner-up Pliskova failed to match her intensity.
The Czech, runner-up at Wimbledon this year, committed three double faults and 20 unforced errors in the match before Sakkari wrapped things up in one hour and 22 minutes.
Roland Garros semi-finalist Sakkari used her serve to devastating effect, winning 22 straight service points after starting the second game of the match down 0-30.
"I served really, really well," she told reporters. "I'm very happy I managed my stress level and my expectations. Especially at the end of the match, it was quite tough to close it out, but I think I did quite well."
She dedicated her win to the people back home in Greece, where more than 500 fires forced the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people.
"For me, winning for Greece, making Greek people proud and happy, especially in difficult times, it makes me even more happy because you know how much I love my country," she said.
'TRUST MY GAME'
World number four Pliskova came up short once again at Flushing Meadows, where she has been stopped at the quarter-final stage three times since reaching the final in 2016.
"I didn't have any chances on her serve," she said. "I don't think I played the best tennis today.
"I don't think I was serving the way I was serving the last couple matches, which you have to serve against opponents like this because she doesn't give you much for free."
Sakkari had shown no signs of fatigue despite coming through a three hour, 30 minute fourth-round battle with former champion Bianca Andreescu which wrapped up on Tuesday at 2:13 a.m. in New York, the latest finish to a women's singles match at the hardcourt major.
She will need all her energy in her semi-final against British teen Emma Raducanu, who has not dropped a set since arriving at Flushing Meadows as a qualifier.
"Emma -- she's had a great run," said Sakkari. "But I trust myself, I trust my game.
"Going deep, you won't have it easy," she added later at a news conference. "I beat some very, very good players to reach the semi-finals this time. I'm actually feeling really well. I don't want to jinx it."
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Peter Rutherford)