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Maria Sakkari and the limits of acceptance

Matt Zemek

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Eric Bolte - USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sakkari busted through her limitations on Saturday, winning her first WTA Tour title in Rabat against Jo Konta. Yet, even as she transcended previous limitations, she offered a reminder that some limitations exist even when others are destroyed.

Let’s unpack this brief story to capture the meaning of the moment in Morocco.

Acceptance is an important human action and a vital human position. We need acceptance to guide us through life’s most difficult and burdensome realities. We need acceptance to handle complicated relationships with other people and communities. We need acceptance of our own selves and our imperfections, and of the people we love, who are just as imperfect and needing of empathy. Acceptance — which is not the same as approval — allows us to live with our imperfections. This doesn’t mean we celebrate or value our imperfections, only that we don’t beat ourselves up as a result of them.

When Maria Sakkari fell down by a set and 4-2 to Konta in the Rabat final, she could have accepted the notion that this was simply not her day. Konta was the far better player in the early stages of the match. The flow of the first 1.5 sets was mostly one-way traffic, with Konta — finding her range all week — playing largely locked-in tennis.

Sakkari is too skilled and too young to have gone through a full career without a title. It was likely to occur at some point in the future. The only question was when.

Sakkari could have accepted the idea that when was not going to be today.

Sakkari did not accept that claim.

She now has a championship trophy.

Acceptance is magnified as an important human quality when a human person strives as much as he or she can to attain an optimal result, but falls short. This is the fine line between acceptance and approval: Approval is an endorsement, an acknowledgment that something or someone is profoundly positive and good, and therefore worthy of being praised or promoted.

Acceptance isn’t an endorsement, but an allowance for life’s complications and difficulties. We can accept mistakes when made sincerely, through vigorous effort, and in good faith, without an intent to harm or mislead. Athletes can accept losses when they know they have done all they can and the opponent has all the answers.

Sakkari had to make Konta win those last two games at 4-2 in the second set. She COULD have accepted a runner-up result in Rabat, but that would have been a form of easy or premature acceptance. There is a time to accept a second-place paycheck: after the match is over. Sakkari hadn’t reached that point, and instead of being resigned to her fate, she changed it.

She won this hinge point with Konta serving at 4-3:

She didn’t lose another game in that second set. She won 10 of the last 11 games in the match. She won her first title, and now she won’t have to wonder when that first championship moment will occur. Her “tomorrow” turned into “today.”

All because she didn’t accept a situation until she had done everything she could to change it.

She did change her situation.

Even acceptance — as important as that human act might be — has its limits, just like anything else.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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