Weekend Herald

Emotional Czech in tribute to ‘upstairs’ Novotna

- Tennis Simon Briggs Telegraph Media Group

There were emotional scenes on Court Philippe-Chatrier as Barbora Krejcikova, the latest Czech talent to emerge from that fertile tennis country, fought through a 3h 18m semifinal at the French Open and then thanked the much-missed Jana Novotna for her inspiratio­n.

At 25, Krejcikova is hardly a novice to elite tennis. She has already won multiple major titles in women’s doubles and mixed doubles, even reaching world No 1 in that discipline. But it is only in the past couple of months that she cracked the singles game as well.

Coming into Paris, Krejcikova had won a combined tally of five singles matches at major tournament­s, all since the start of last year. Now she has more than doubled that figure at this one event, earning a place in the women’s final thanks to yesterday’s dramatic 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 victory over Greece’s Maria Sakkari.

After such a draining match,

Krejcikova might have been expected to cut her on-court interview short and make for the massage table. Instead, she asked broadcasti­ng host Marion Bartoli to extend their chat for a moment while she thanked Novotna, the former Wimbledon champion who had coached her during the middle of the 2010s.

“From upstairs, she was really looking after me,” said Krejcikova of Novotna, who died of cancer in 2017 at the tragically young age of 49. “And I really miss her and I just want to thank her because . . . because of her, I’m here. It’s really important to me to say this out loud.” Krejcikova showed enormous resilience to outlast a determined Sakkari — and also to shrug off a dubious line call on match point. A minute or two before driving a backhand up the line to close out the win, she had held up her arms in celebratio­n when a Sakkari forehand was called long — only for the chair umpire to overrule. Had Sakkari turned that reprieve into a successful comeback, there would have been no little controvers­y, especially as Hawk-Eye — which, admittedly, has never been fully tested on clay — suggested the ball was out. But Krejcikova remained calm.

Indeed, that was her mien throughout this meandering and nerve-wracking match, which featured moonballs, drop-shots and the occasional horrible shank.

The contest with Sakkari, a loud and energetic player who always seems as if she has been plugged in at the mains, could hardly have been greater. But, in the end, it was Sakkari who buckled, failing to serve out the match at 5-4 in the deciding set, while Krejcikova held her nerve. Perhaps all those doubles finals were useful preparatio­n.

In the earlier semifinal, 29-yearold Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchen­kova beat Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek in straight sets 7-5, 6-3.

This is another story of a late bloomer, for Pavlyuchen­kova set a new record by reaching her first major final on her 52nd attempt.

The previous record had been held by Roberta Vinci, who reached the

2015 US Open final in what was then her 44th Grand Slam event.

 ?? Photo / AP ?? Barbora Krejcikova blows a kiss after her victory.
Photo / AP Barbora Krejcikova blows a kiss after her victory.

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