The Timaru Herald
Surprise winner in special tribute
Thinking of her late coach the whole time, Barbora Krejcikova went from unseeded player to grand slam champion at a French Open full of surprises.
Krejcikova beat 31st-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 2-6 6-4 in the final at Roland Garros in Paris yesterday to win the title in only her fifth major tournament as a singles player.
‘‘It’s big achievement that nobody really expected,’’ said Krejcikova, a 25-year-old from the Czech Republic who never won a WTA title of any sort until last month. ‘‘Not even me.’’
When it ended with Pavlyuchenkova’s backhand landing long on Krejcikova’s fourth match point, they met at the net for a hug. Then Krejcikova blew kisses, her eyes squeezed shut, in tribute to her former coach, Jana Novotna, the 1998 Wimbledon champion who died of cancer at age 49 in 2017.
‘‘Pretty much her last words were just enjoy and just try to win a grand slam. And, I mean, I know that, from somewhere, she’s looking after me,’’ Krejcikova told the crowd, limited to 5000 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘‘All of this that just happened, these two weeks, is pretty much because she is just looking after me from up there,’’ Krejcikova said, lifting her left hand toward the sky.
‘‘It was amazing that I had a chance to meet her and that she was such an inspiration for me. I just really miss her. But I hope she’s happy right now. I’m extremely happy.’’
Pavlyuchenkova, a 29-year-old Russian, was playing in her first grand slam final in the 52nd major tournament of her career – the most appearances by a woman before reaching a title match.
‘‘Who could have thought, like, I would be in the final now? I think I’m just going to keep on going the same, zero expectation, just working hard and doing my job,’’ said Pavlyuchenkova.
‘‘OK, of course,’’ Pavlyuchenkova said, ‘‘I believe in myself a little bit more maybe, yes.’’
Same for Krejcikova, who spoke frankly about feeling overwhelmed by stress before facing 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the fourth round. Krejcikova worried she wouldn’t win a game and was in tears until her sports psychologist talked her through it.
Good thing, too, because Krejcikova beat Stephens 6-2 6-0. That went alongside wins over No 5 seed Elina Svitolina and No 24 Coco Gauff before Krejcikova saved a match point in the semifinals against No 17 Maria Sakkari.
Now Krejcikova is the sixth consecutive first-time grand slam champion to collect the women’s championship at Roland Garros, where the red clay can frustrate players by diminishing the effectiveness of speedy serves and by creating odd bounces.