Greece will face Croatia in the Perth City Finals of the United Cup after both nations secured dramatic tie victories on Tuesday.
Teenaged World No 630 Stefanos Sakellaridis proved the hero for Greece as he beat Zizou Bergs to help his team down Belgium.
Sakellaridis made his ATP Tour singles debut in a battling 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 triumph that set up Maria Sakkari to secure the tie with victory over Elise Mertens.
The ITF Tour regular said that he has been in awe of the company he has kept for this week: “It was the first time in my life this week seeing a Top 100 player in front of me, actually.
“You can see that the team chemistry is unbelievable, so it’s a huge boost for every one of us to play much better,” said Sakellaridis. “When you feel good, you play good.
The 18-year-old revealed that Greek No 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas has not only mentored him but rendered material assistance to the youngster by fixing his rackets.
“To be able to live with [Tsitsipas] throughout the day, you can see how much work he puts in and my respect towards the top players has grown immensely,” said Sakellaridis. “Stefanos has given me lots of advice, he has helped me a lot. Also all the team, they seem like they really want to help me, all of them gave me advice.
“Obviously from watching here, what they do and how they do it on the court and outside the court, I can also see some things for myself. All in all it is an amazing experience to come here.
“I was competing for the last two or three months, [but] I was using only one racquet,” explained Sakellaridis later. “I had grip problems with all my racquets, so I didn’t want to use any others. I was only using the same racquet because it was the only one that felt like the grip was how I like it.
“That racquet, after I played with it a bit, the butt cap [at the bottom of the handle] started moving, so in the past month I was playing with one racquet, and the grip was moving. Then I came here, and he fixed all my racquets, so now I can freely play.”
The young Greek has also now bagged a tidy prize money purse to help him on his way as a professional.
A dream ATP debut indeed.
“It’s my ATP debut, and it came with a win, and prize money that I couldn’t imagine,” said Sakellaridis. “[After the United Cup] I’m going to compete in Monastir for the next few weeks. There is a 15K ITF tournament there, but we’ll see how it goes. It was a big win and a big step up in the rankings.”
Sakkari took the tie with her 6-1, 7-5 win and then teamed up with Tsitsipas to win the mixed doubles to record a 4-1 win.
Greece’s opponents in the Perth City Final of the United Cup will be Croatia.
Borna Gojo was the key man for Croatia as he faced the pressure of a French fightback after Caroline Garcia got France on the board with a win over Petra Martic.
France would have fancied the matchup with World 144 Gojo facing experienced professional Adrian Mannarino.
However, Gojo was resilient and triumphed 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-6(5) to secure his nation a City Finals clash against Greece.
“I don’t know [how I won],” said Gojo in his post-match interview.
“No real answer. I just tried to take the support from the team and take the energy. I was a bit down in the third, and thanks to them, I won. Without them I would have lost.”
Team Croatia captain Iva Majoli was thrilled to secure victory with one match to spare.
“We knew that 2-0 is a big lead and put more pressure on France today,” said Majoli. “But we knew every match was going to be tough today. They had their top players playing, and very open matches. I mean, it could have gone both ways. Mixed, you never know. They were probably a little bit favourites in the mixed.
“I’m always very positive, and I always believe in the players, even sometimes when we are underdogs, I feel positive. It was the same today. Petra was very close, but then Borna just played amazing and closed the match.”
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