By Jane Voigt
Tennis is basically about swinging a racquet and connecting with a yellow fuzzy ball. It also can be about the entire match: swinging score-lines plus swinging confidence and ability to persevere.
That’s what the ladies singles finals at Roland Garros appeared to be on Saturday in Paris.
It was an up and down affair between two first-time major finalists, each finding their way to win one point at a time. Ultimately, a combination of perseverance, keen ball-striking and placement triumphed as Barbora Krejcikova defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, to win her first-ever major title in only her fifth main draw appearance at a major tournament.
“I just want to thank everyone for coming today and supporting us,” Krejcikova told fans inside Court Philippe Chatrier. “In these times, in this pandemic. This atmosphere is amazing here. And, I’m just really happy.”
Krejcikova becomes the third unseeded French Open women’s finalist to win the title. Iga Swiatek won in 2020 and Jelena Ostapenko won in 2017. Krejcikova still has yet to play in the main draws of Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. However, her blend of counter-play and aggression now has proven successful on the singles stage. She won two Grand Slam women’s doubles titles – at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2018 – alongside countrywoman Katerina Siniakova. The team will step on court Sunday to swing away for a third major doubles crown.
“I really want to thank all of them [supporters in player box]. Jan Kodes, Martina Navratilova, my mom and dad. It’s really hard to put words together.”
Krejcikova’s dominant inspiration came from Jana Novotna, a memorable tennis star from the Czech Republic known for her serve-and-volley style and having won a career Grand Slam in doubles twice. She also won the singles title at Wimbledon in 1998, after letting victory seemingly slip through her fingers five years before in 1993. She lost her composure that afternoon after losing to Steffi Graf. She ended up crying on the shoulders of the Duchess of Kent.
Krejcikova knocked on Novotna’s door in Brno, their hometown, in 2014. Krejcikova asked the legend if she would help her with her tennis. Novotna accepted the challenge and the rest is history. She died from ovarian cancer in 2017 at age 49.
“It’s hard to put words together,” Krejcikova said on Saturday, “but her last ones to me were, ‘Enjoy and win a Grand Slam.’”
Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 women’s singles Grand Slam titles, presented The Coupe de Suzanne Lenglen to her countrywoman.
Asked what she felt watching the final, Navratilova said, “Pride. I knew she wasn’t going to serve and volley, but she served out wide. I knew she was a champion and had a lot of courage,” specifically speaking about when Krejcikova approached Novotna with no previous announcement.
“Such a nice experience for right now and to tell my kids,” Krejcikova said.
Not going unnoticed was Pavlyuchenkova, standing alongside the champions with her own thoughts about the day.
“Since I was a little girl I’ve been playing here and preparing a speech [for when I win],” the Russian said. “Now, I have no words, forgetting the words I was preparing.”
Pavlyuchenkova was the youngest junior girls World No. 1 at 14 in 2006. She never advanced beyond the quarterfinals of any major, but did reach that stage six times in her lengthy career, her first appearance having been 10 years ago in Paris. She was playing in her 53rd Grand Slam main draw, and her 13th Roland Garros.
Although she must have been disappointed on Saturday, Pavlyuchenkova voiced her gratitude to her parents and brother, who had been traveling and coaching her recently, saying, “Thank you for believing in me and pushing me.”
Pavlyuchenkova also complimented Krejcikova on her courage, adding, “I don’t know how you have that courage and power to play singles and doubles.” Pavlyuchenkova and doubles partner Elena Rybakina lost their bid for this year’s doubles title to Magna Linette and Bernarda Para in the quarterfinals.
Saturday’s final began in a lopsided manner, as Krejcikova forced her fluid yet wickedly deceptive game on Pavlyuchenkova, who was broken in every service game. “Pavs,” the number 31 seed, has been an aggressive baseline player all her career. To turn momentum around, she had to take an offensive stance, which she did in the second set and tried to close out at 5-1 but was broken. She took a medical timeout for a sore left thigh and came back spirited. She closed out the second set and was level at 3-3 in the third. However she could not sustain the momentum, succumbing to Krejcikova’s clinical assault from every possible corner and angle of the court.
To get through the nerves of her inaugural Grand Slam singles final, Krejcikova told herself “go for first serve,” which she did by winning 55% off both first and second playable serves compared to Pavlyuchenkova’s 49% and 48%. The other stats from the match depict a close encounter. Yet Krejcikova broke through, perhaps having more success with her mental game than her opponent, who had said after her semifinal win that “Tennis is 80% mental; we’re not all that different [otherwise].”
Krejcikova became the “first Czech woman to win the Roland-Garros singles title since Hana Mandlikova in 1981,” the tournament reported.
In other words, perseverance triumphed.