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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, June 12, 2021

 
Krejcikova

Barbora Krejcikova topped Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 capturing her first Grand Slam final and honoring the spirit of her mentor Jana Novotna.

Photo credit: Roland Garros Facebook

Shoes streaked with dirt, Barbora Krejcikova raised her eyes to the sky in elation and blew a kiss toward the heavens.

Unseeded and undaunted, Krejcikova defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 in today's Roland Garros final realizing her greatest dreams with eyes wide open—and the spirit of her tennis mentor the late, great Jana Novotna burning brightly in her heart.

Biofile Q&A: Barbora Krejcikova

Pavlyuchenkova: So Close, So Far Away

Playing just her fifth career Grand Slam singles main draw, Krejcikova delivered a fortnight filled with passion, resilience and creative variation
she threw in some moon balls, slice forehands and drop shots today always trying to keep the veteran Pavlyuchenkova slightly off balance. World No. 33 Krejcikova fought off match point out-dueling Maria Sakkari in a classic 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 triumph—the longest French Open semifinal in Open Era history—to reach her first Grand Slam singles final in Paris. 



Trailing 2-3 in the decider, Krejcikova caught a higher gear bursting through eight straight points backing a shutout hold with a love break. A committed Krejcikova churned through four of the final five games to become the first Czech woman to win Roland Garros since Hana Mandlikova, representing Czechoslovakia, stopped Sylvia Hanika in the 1981 final.

Krejcikova the sixth different woman to raise the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in the last six years and joins Jelena Ostapenko and Iga Swiatek as the third unseeded champion. The past 15 Grand Slams have crowned nine maiden major winners and though she showed signs of nerves at the start, Krejcikova, drawing on her experience as a doubles Grand Slam champion, did not shrink from the moment when it mattered most.

When Pavlyuchenkova's final drive sailed long, a stunned Krejcikova showed a delayed reaction then looked straight up at the sky in honoring her former coach Novotna, who died of cancer on November 19, 2017, but whose life lessons live on in her protegee. 

Though this inspired run has defied Krejcikova's dreams, it confirmed the deep belief 1998 Wimbledon champion Novotna had in her. Krejcikova still carries Novotna's belief—and words of wisdom—with her when she steps on court. Today, she fulfilled their shared dream in a gritty performance that would surely bring a smile to her coach's face.

"Like every time before the match or after the match I just feel like she's there, she's looking after me," Krejcikova said of 1998 Wimbledon champion Novotna, with whom she shared a career-defining connection.

Hall of Famer Novotna died of cancer on November 19, 2017, but her lessons live on in Krejcikova.

"I cannot believe what just happened. I cannot believe that I actually I won a Grand Slam," Krejcikova said. "I was going through a really hard time when Jana was passing away. I was most of the time with her and I really wanted to experience this...and pretty much her her last words were just enjoy and just try to win a Grand Slam.

"I know from somewhere she's looking after me and all of this that just happened this two weeks is because she is looking after me from up here and I just thank her. It was really amazing that I had a chance to meet her. That she was such an inspiration for me. I just really miss her. I hope she's happy right now."




As Czech champions Martina Navratilova and Jan Kodes watched on, Krejcikova kept calm amid a cauldron of pressure scoring her 12th straight clay-court victory. All this from a woman who arrived in Paris last fall ranked No. 114 qualified and played through qualifying to reach her first major fourth round.

The 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova made history contesting her first major final in her 52nd career Grand Slam to become the first woman in Open Era history to reach a maiden major after playing 50 or more Slams.Pavlyuchenkova fought hard, but was pained by both a left knee and left thigh injury that required treatment for taping and sapped some sting from her serve.

The strain of Pavlyuchenkova's 6-4, 2-6, 6-0 third-round win over third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka spiked knee pain. Her body was even more banged up with three-set wins over former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and her doubles partner, Elena Rybakina. Pavlyuchenkova persevered and put herself in position to win, but Krejcikova stepped it up attacking the ball at crunch time. 



A gritty run came to a painful end.

"I play so good, but my body says this to me: I don't want to continue. Yeah, the more you play, the worse it gets to my body," Pavlyuchenkova said. "When I was landing on my serve, I felt a lot of pain on the back of my leg. It was almost like pulling, so I had to wrap it up. Then I lost that game 4-3 because it was against the wind.

"I always felt like she was pushing on my serve. I felt like I needed to do a little bit more with my serve. She was playing with the wind. That's how I felt. I was feeling a little bit like this all the time. I don't know. I think she just played more solid and better in the end."

Former world No. 1 doubles champion Krejcikova was flying high in the final stages today and will try to continue her historic flight tomorrow.

The 25-year-old Krejcikova and long-time Czech partner Katerina Siniakova will face 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek and Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the doubles final as they play for their second Roland Garros doubles crown in the last four years. If the pair prevail, Krejcikova will regain the world No. 1 doubles ranking and become the first woman since Mary Pierce in 2000 to sweep French Open singles and doubles championship.

Tennis Express

Contesting her first major singles final in her fifth main-draw appearance, Krejcikova was gulping deep breaths at the start. Understandably feeling the jitters, Krejcikova committed a pair of double faults to gift the break in the opening game.

The 33rd-ranked Czech calmed down and came right back lofting a running rainbow lob in the corner that froze Pavlyuchenkova as she broke back immediately.

Curling a crosscourt forehand, Krejcikova earned a third break point in the fourth game and kept targeting the Russian's two-hander as she scored her second straight break.


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Varying flat drives with shrewd subtlety, Krejcikova sometimes mixed in slice forehands to change the height of her shots. Krejcikova was probing the corners then pounded down her first ace to cap her fourth straight game for a 4-1 lead.

Still seeking her first hold, Pavlyuchenkova looked tight, piling up errors early. The 29-year-old Russian slapped a smash into net then sliding a forehand wide, donating a third break.

Serving for the set, Krejcikova came back from love-40 down cruising through four points in row to snatch a one-set lead on a six-game surge.

Following the opening-game nerves, Krejcikova settled in and played a more composed set cruising through the opener in a half hour.

A strong front-runner, Krejcikova had won 20 of 21 matches when taking the opening set this season. Pavlyuchenkova desperately needed to hold to turn a one-sided match monologue into dialogue.

 The former ITF junior world champion swept aside a break point with a drive volley finally holding to start the second set snapping her six-game slide.

That hold sparked some life into the first Russian French Open semifinalist since Maria Sharapova in 2014. Pavlyuchenkova pounced on a second serve return backing the Czech up then cracked a backhand down the line breaking with a shout for 2-0.  Pavlyuchenkova was popping her first serve with more vigor, winning eight of 11 points to extend her lead to 3-0 flipping the script on her first-set struggles.

While Pavlyuchenkova was striking more explosive shots, Krejcikova lost her sharp edge committing her fourth double fault and an unforced error to drop serve again.

Serving to force a decider, Pavlyuchenkova clutched at her taped left leg after a lunging shot on set point then sprayed a forehand. Pavlyuchenkova dropped serve and took an injury timeout for treatment on her left leg.

Returning to action with heavy taping wrapping her left thigh, a hobbled Pavlyuchenkova carried a clear game plan: strike bigger and try to shorten points.  The Russian rapped a crosscourt winner closing the second set with her fourth break of the day.

At the end of the second set, Krejcikova left the court for several minutes while Pavlyuchenkova practiced shadow serves in front of her court-side seat.

Seeming to labor to push up on a second serve, Pavlyuchenkova double-faulted away the break and a 2-1 lead in the decider. Krejcikova saved two break points in the fourth game, but Pavlyuchenkova patiently dealt with a few moon balls, drew the short ball she wanted and ripped a forehand to break back and level after four games.




The question remained: Would Pavlyuchenkova be able to load and launch from that tender left leg? She snapped off some stinging serves holding in the fifth game.

Stretching the court, Krejcikova cracked a clean backhand strike down the line for triple break point then swept a crosscourt forehand breaking at love for 4-3.

Seeing the finish line in her first major singles final, Krejcikova accelerated her aggression.

Firing a forehand down the line, Krejcikova torched her two-hander crosscourt for double championship point. Pavlyuchenkova dug in to deny the first championship point and Krejcikova missed a return on the second. In a determined stand, Pavlyuchenkov was wobbled but unyielding holding for 4-5 and forcing the Czech to serve out the title.




On this day, nothing and no one would deny Krejcikova her grand dream though it didn't come easily.

Sweeping a clean winner down the line gave Krejcikova two more championship points. She double faulted on her third. On her fourth championship point, Krejcikova watched Pavlyuchenkova's final drive sail long, paused as if both dazed and in disbelief, before thrusting her arms toward the sky and smiling.

"Right now, all of my dreams came true," Krejcikova said. "I just cannot believe it. It was a dream come true, a dream come true."

 

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