Player Features

As An Ex-Pro, Your Mother Should Know! Sakkari, Tsitsipas Discuss Mums’ Influence

Top 10 stars are both children of former WTA pros
January 04, 2023
Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas in mixed doubles action at the United Cup in Perth.
Tennis Australia
Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas in mixed doubles action at the United Cup in Perth. By Andy West

“Everything about how I play is from my mum.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas is in no doubt about the influence that his mother, former WTA pro Julia Apostoli, has had on his rise to the top of the game. Not just in terms of raising him and supporting him courtside since he was a junior, but also directly influencing the fundamentals of his game.

“Single-handed backhand, serve and volley sometimes, it’s from my mum,” the nine-time tour-level titlist told this week. “My mum was a very aggressive player. Nowadays you don’t see many women with a single-handed backhand, but she had a beautiful one, it was her best stroke that she used very effectively. It’s something I consider a strength of mine as well. She has taught me so much about that particular shot and she gives me advice on the net game as well.”

This week in Perth, Tsitsipas has spearheaded Team Greece’s United Cup campaign alongside another Top 10 star who grew up as the child of a tennis player, WTA No. 6 Maria Sakkari. Her mother Angeliki Kanellopoulou reached a career-high No. 43 in the WTA Rankings in 1987.

“I think it’s very special that we [Stef and I] are two very good players and both have very special mums,” said Sakkari. “For us, it’s an inspiration having two very powerful women in our lives and supporting us.

“She always tells me to enjoy it because a tennis career is very short. Towards the end of your career, you realise that you should’ve enjoyed it more, so that’s what she’s trying to teach me. I think I have been doing well lately, enjoying my time on the Tour.”

Maria Sakkari
Maria Sakkari and her mother, Angeliki Kanellopoulou. Photo Credit: WTA/Jimmeie48

Apostoli and Kanellopoulou, who know each other well, are regular presences in Tsitsipas and Sakkari’s respective team boxes on Tour, and both are happy to discuss their own experiences of playing professionally if it helps guide their children through their own careers.

“It’s very helpful to have someone who has played at the professional level,” said Sakkari. “They can really understand all these emotions we feel on the court and obviously teach us a lot of things and tell us their opinions. The main thing is having their support because they know exactly how we feel on the court. If I struggle, I can ask my mum for advice, which is very helpful.”

“She has instilled in me the discipline,” added Tsitsipas of Apostoli. “She hasn’t been easy with me, and I think that’s for a reason, to make me grow up stronger. She’s also a very loving, caring mum. I owe a lot to her. One thing I perhaps have learned from her is that to not have anything external or from the other side of the court affect you, that’s how you can get down on yourself and even lose matches.”

Neither 24-year-old Tsitsipas nor 27-year-old Sakkari are old enough to remember their mums’ professional playing careers. Yet Sakkari admitted that Kanellopoulou’s legacy alone, particularly in Greece, did not always make things easy for her as she tried to forge her own career in the game.

“At the age I fell in love with tennis, I was too young to understand what my mum was,” said Sakkari. “She has a big name back at home in the tennis community. Once I realised she was a very good player, it wasn’t easy to handle. Everyone expects you to win because your mom was very good. At the same time, I just found a way to block it out and play my tennis, but always having her by my side.”

For Tsitsipas, at least one of his mum’s achievements as a pro is symbolically linked to his own career. The 24-year-old is a two-time champion at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, where Apostoli also won a singles title during her career.

“It was quite a cool achievement to share my name with my mum on the wall at the Monte Carlo Country Club,” said Tsitsipas. “I remember going there for the first time when I was about 10 years old and seeing my mum’s name on the plaque. I was just thinking, ‘Maybe someday I can achieve something similar’.

“That’s where my whole career kind of started. I used to go to southern France and play local tournaments when I was eight. Monte-Carlo Country Club was one of the very first clubs I visited abroad and one of the first tournaments I watched as a kid. Being able to see Nadal face Federer and other tennis legends, it has a special connection in our family.”

<a href=''>Stefanos Tsitsipas</a>/Julia Apostoli Stefanos Tsitsipas embraces his mother Julia Apostoli after winning in Monte Carlo in 2021. Photo Credit: Valery Hache/AFP via Getty

Although she cannot remember them, Sakkari still draws lessons from her mother’s stories of her playing days.

“Of course there have been a lot of stories,” said the two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist. “When they played, travelling and communication was tougher. The differences between now and then aren’t shocking to us, but it makes us appreciate more how easier life is today.”

Not all old family tales set the best example for the next generation, however, something acknowledged by Tsitsipas when sharing a light-hearted anecdote from his mother’s early days.

“My mom and her twin sister used to play doubles a lot, they were champions back in the USSR,” explained Tsitsipas. “My aunt used to serve all the time when they played doubles because she had the better serve and a few times the opponent realised that [only one of them was serving]. The referee told them to change socks so that he could differentiate them!

“This is some of the smart tactics and mentality my mum implemented in me… [But] not in a bad way!"

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