Barbora Krejcikova won her maiden grand slam singles title, beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 2-6 6-4 in a roller coaster French Open final.
The 25-year-old, ranked outside the world’s top 100 a little over a year ago, became the first Czech player to win a grand slam singles title since Petra Kvitova lifted her second Wimbledon trophy in 2014.
The opening two sets swung so wildly from one player to another that it was impossible to pick a winner going into the deciding set, but Krejcikova held firm to outlast her opponent, who began to struggle with injury toward the end of the second set.
Krejcikova’s celebration was surprisingly muted when Pavlyuchenkova hit her final shot long, but the emotion came out during her post-match interview.
“I just want to thank everyone for coming today and cheering for us,” she said. There was the biggest support and energy and during the bad times during this pandemic and it’s nice to see you all here. The atmosphere was amazing and I’m super happy that I was able to enjoy it today in front of you and … I’m just really happy.
“I want to thank my team, my coach, my physio, my friends, everybody back home, my family, mum, dad, brothers, niece and nephew. It’s really hard to put words together right now, I just can’t believe what happened, I can’t believe I won a grand slam.
“I was going through a hard time when (former Czech tennis player) Jana Novotna passed away. Pretty much her last words to me were: “Just enjoy it and try to win a grand slam.’ Pretty much this whole thing is because she is looking down (on me). She was such an inspiration, I just really miss her and hope she is happy right now. I am extremely happy.”
Up next for Krejcikova is the small matter of Sunday’s women’s doubles final, where she will try and add a third grand slam doubles title alongside partner Katerina Siniakova.
She will look to become the first player to win both titles in the same year since Mary Pierce accomplished the feat in 2000.
The unseeded Krejcikova and the 31st seeded Pavlyuchenkova had both upset some big names on their shock runs to Saturday’s final.
With both players appearing in their maiden grand slam singles final, how they each handled the nerves of the occasion would go a long to deciding the match’s outcome.
Pavlyuchenkova appeared to ease into proceedings fastest and got off to a blistering start, striking the ball cleanly and with purpose and it earned her a break of serve in the first game of the match.
Krejcikova, however, remained calm and broke straight back, the game-winning point coming off a sumptuous lob that showcased her touch as a doubles specialist.
The Czech star is certainly better known for her exploits on the doubles circuit, where she has reached world No. 1 and claimed two grand slam titles, including one here at the French Open, but these past two weeks have shown her true potential on a singles court.
Krejcikova, who won her first WTA singles title coming into this tournament, proceeded to rattle off another five games in a row to take the first set 6-1 in just 32 minutes.
After a fast start, Pavlyuchenkova looked lost and out of her depth on Philippe-Chatrier and she would have to make a significant improvement in the second set to avoid this becoming a complete walkover.
It was imperative she started the second set as she did the first and a gutsy hold of serve — after losing a grueling 20-shot rally — set the tone for what would be a very different set.
All of a sudden, Pavlyuchenkova had found her range and confidence and broke Krejcikova’s serve before opening up an early 3-0 lead in the second.
The Russian then waltzed to a 5-1 lead and looked to have the second set wrapped up, but was broken by Krejcikova and looked to be wincing in pain when stretching for her shots.
At the end of the game, she took a medical timeout and had her right thigh heavily strapped; the treatment clearly worked and she came back out to win the set and level the match to set up an intriguing decider.
The momentum had swung so drastically over the opening two sets that it was impossible to sense which way this match was going to go.
Krejcikova was visibly frustrated with the way she was playing, but still managed to hold her crucial opening service game, playing a smart drop shot that the injured Pavlyuchenkova wasn’t close to reaching.
The pair exchanged breaks of serve and a tense third set — already far more competitive than the previous two — was level at 2-2.
For the first time, the Roland-Garros crowd started to get behind the players as they began playing unquestionably the most entertaining tennis of the final.
The deciding moment came two games later with the scores tied at 3-3. Serving at 0-30 down, Pavlyuchenkova could only watch on in admiration as Krejcikova crunched a stunning backhand down the line to give herself three break points.
She only needed the first one, hitting an equally brilliant forehand into the same corner to once again take the lead in this match.
Krejcikova held her nerve to win her next service game, before forcing Pavlyuchenkova to save two championship points while serving to stay in the game.
In the end, it was only delaying the inevitable as Krejcikova watched her opponent’s wild forehand sail beyond the baseline and raised her hands to the sky in celebration.