Maria Sakkari said Monday dispelling "negative thoughts" helped propel her to two Grand Slam semi-finals last year -- and she hopes to go even farther at the Australian Open.
The Greek fifth seed battled past Germany's Tatjana Maria 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) to kick-start her campaign as she looks to build on a breakout 2021.
The 26-year-old made the semis at both the US Open and French Open to telegraph her intent and is seeded in the top 10 of a Slam for the first time at Melbourne Park.
She said she felt she belonged at the top, which she put down to a new-found belief.
"I think that's why I got to play two semi-finals in Slams last year," said Sakkari, who played the first match on the main Rod Laver Arena to launch the season's opening Grand Slam.
"I started working a lot in my mind on how I can get all these negative thoughts and all this pressure away from me.
"Of course, you can never do like a hundred percent what you're trying to do, trying to achieve, but you can improve. I proved myself that I have a strong mind. I proved it on court actually."
She took time to settle against Maria but soon found her groove to break for a 5-4 lead and serve out the opening set in 44 minutes.
But the 287th-ranked German refused to give up and made Sakkari work hard, taking the match to a tiebreaker before her resistance was broken.
"We all know how hard first rounds can be and that wasn't easy," said the athletic Sakkari, who also made the semi-finals of the season-ending WTA Finals last year.
"Tatjana played a really great match and I found it tough. It was my first match and I needed time to find my rhythm.
"I was also a little bit stressed to open the tournament in this wonderful stadium."
Sakkari will next play Chinese qualifier Zheng Qinwen, who upset Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus in three sets.
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