Barbora Krejcikova beats Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win French Open
Over the past two weeks in Paris, Barbora Krejcikova has competed in just the fifth grand slam singles main draw of her career, her third as a direct entrant. She has not even made it to Wimbledon or the US Open as a singles player, yet when she finally does she will make her debut in those events as a grand slam singles champion.
In a wonderful display of toughness and guile, the unseeded Krejcikova defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 31st seed, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 to win the French Open. After a run that has included one match point saved, numerous battles and ample beat-downs across matches against five seeded players, Krejcikova has become the second Czech woman to win at Roland Garros, after Hana Mandlikova in 1981.
Few grand slam champions have taken a similar path to Krejcikova. Despite reaching No 1 in doubles, winning five women’s and mixed doubles grand slam titles and therefore being well known for years, the 25 year-old spent the first nine years of her career outside of the top 100 in singles, including six years stuck in the limbo of the 101-200 ranking spots.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed about,” she said. “Winning here my first grand slam doubles title [in 2018], then winning the mixed ones. Now, I was just telling myself it would be really nice if I could get a grand slam in all three categories. I cannot believe it, now it’s happening.”
Having triumphed with craftiness, delicate hands and a vast array of shots, she stands as a reminder of all of the talent that exists outside of the top events, so much of which simply needs the right time and circumstances to thrive.
After making two double faults in the tense opening game to lose her serve immediately, Krejcikova’s game began to flow and she was in full control, weaving her web as she dragged her Russian opponent around the court with her arsenal of angles, sharply redirected backhands and drop shots. From 0-1 down, Krejcikova breezed through six games in a row to take the set 6-1.
Pavlyuchenkova had been flattened for a set, but after nailing a brilliant forehand drive volley to save break point in the opening game of the second set, she came alive.
Throughout the set, she dictated and demonstrated all of her prodigious ball-striking talent as her wondrous backhand began to sing. After sealing two decisive games with wicked backhand winners, she served for the set at 5-1.
As she served out the set, Pavlyuchenkova pulled up with an injury in her left leg. She lost her service game and then took a medical timeout, amusingly easing the pain while she received a massage by snacking on some Haribo gold bears. When she emerged, she had no choice but to minimise her movement and attack, nailing a gutsy cross-court backhand winner to take the set.
Both had played excellent tennis in parts, but as the third set began it remained to be seen who would snatch the opportunity. Krejcikova did.
At the most important intersection of her singles career, the score 3-3, she fearlessly stood on top of the baseline, directing Pavlyuchenkova from side to side. She closed off the game with consecutive winners, backhand and forehand, and soon led 5-3, 15-40 on Pavlyuchenkova’s serve. The Russian scuppered both break points and held.
This could have been the moment that things fell apart. But throughout this long two-week journey, Krejcikova has continually demonstrated her toughness under furious pressure. She did so again by shaking off her nerves to serve out the title.
Afterwards, a battered and bruised Pavlyuchenkova reflected on her own progress as she banished many demons by finally passing the quarter‑final stage: “I didn’t expect that this tournament I’ll be in the final,” she said.
“Again I tell you, physically I wasn’t feeling super great, like ready 100%. Still, because of fighting and believing, you can still achieve it.”
Krejcikova is now on a 12-match winning streak after clinching her maiden WTA title the week before the French Open and will be ranked No 15, and the week is still not over. She will play in the doubles final alongside her longtime partner, Katerina Siniakova, as she attempts to become the first player since Mary Pierce in 2000 to do the double in Paris.
As she celebrated the triumph, Krejcikova again thought of the late Jana Novotna, her former mentor and close friend who also hails from the city of Brno. “I was going through a really hard time when Jana was passing away,” she said, fighting back tears. “I was with her most of the time and I really [wanted to] experience this because I thought it was gonna make me really strong. Pretty much her last words were: ‘Just enjoy, just try to win a grand slam.’”
And she did.