Before Barbora Krejcikova’s beloved coach, former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna, died of cancer in 2017, she had a few final words for her pupil: [yourself] and try to win a Grand Slam. “
The unranked Krejcikova made the remarks on Saturday after one of the most unlikely recent races to the Roland Garros title. After beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 in an intertwined and often nerve-wracking match to win her first major singles title, she blew a kiss to the sky.
“She’s somewhere above taking care of me,” Krejcikova said in her post-match press conference. “She wants me to win. She knows what it means to me, and I know what it would mean to her.”
In an extremely unpredictable women’s draw, stacked with upheaval, injury and abandonment, it was 25-year-old Krejcikova who seized the opportunity and made the improbable during the fortnight. She became the sixth consecutive major champion for the first time at Roland Garros and is the 12th woman to win her first Grand Slam title since the start of the 2016 season.
Ahead of Saturday’s trophy presentation, Krejcikova said she couldn’t believe it many times, even though it was a moment she and Novotna dreamed about.
Krejcikova first approached Novotna, 1998 All England Club winner and 24-time WTA Tour winner, as an 18-year-old who was ranked outside the top 300 and having recently completed his junior career. Throughout the legendary story, Krejcikova and her parents visited Novotna in their common country, the Czech Republic – without being invited or announced – and asked if Novotna would be interested in helping her. Krejcikova didn’t expect the superstar to agree.
Novotna told him to come strike with her this Thursday. Their connection was instantaneous.
Soon after, Novotna was officially guiding Krejcikova and traveling around the world with her for most of the lower level ITF tournaments.
Krejcikova said Novotna’s death at the age of 49 was difficult, but she finds solace in their time together, especially during Novotna’s last days. Since then, she has been supported by Novotna’s family and others close to her, including Martina Navratilova, 18-time major champion and player of Czech origin, who was on hand to hand over the trophy on Saturday.
Saturday’s victory was something Novotna always wanted for Krejcikova, but the path to the moment was perhaps more winding and unexpected than either one could have predicted. Krejcikova has long enjoyed success in doubles – winning two major titles with partner Katerina Siniakova and three mixed doubles trophies – but the singles turned out to be different. Krejcikova reached the world ranking No. 1 in doubles more than two years before placing in the top 100 in singles.
It took her 12 qualifying tries to just get into a major main draw, as she did in the 2018 French Open, and she only recorded a main draw victory at the Open d Australia in 2020. The French Open 2021 marked her. fifth time in singles at a Grand Slam. She has never played singles at Wimbledon or the US Open before.
Ranked n ° 114 at the entrance to the French Open 2020 and only obtaining automatic entry to the main draw due to the large number of absences linked to the pandemic, Krejcikova took the opportunity to qualify for the fourth round in October. She ended the season with a semifinal appearance in Linz.
Its ascent only continued into the New Year. Krejcikova reached the final in Dubai in March and won her first WTA singles title in Strasbourg last month – a step made very special because Novotna won there in 1989.
“Every time I go out on the pitch I get out of the pitch, I always think of her,” Krejcikova said earlier this week of what it meant to her. “I always wonder what she would say to me after such a race, everything [these] winning matches and everything. “
Despite her recent success and a career ranking of No.33, Krejcikova arrived in Paris considered a doubles specialist. But any of the high profile opponents she faced at Roland Garros – including No.5 seed Elina Svitolina, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, young prodigy Coco Gauff and the rising star Maria Sakkari – can confirm that this is simply no longer the case. .
Krejcikova stunned her more experienced opponents throughout the fortnight with her unorthodox and multifaceted game, filled with variety and an uncanny ability to respond to almost any style of play.
“Overall she has a very good base game,” Sakkari said after their semi-final game on Thursday. “She has great volleys. Great serve. I think she’s playing just well right now.
“Of course, when the players play well for so many games, it’s hard to beat them.”
Krejcikova is now expected to climb to 15th in the world ranking on Monday.
But just because she can no longer be considered fair Doubles player, that doesn’t mean she’s not always so dominant there. She and Siniakova will face Iga Swiatek, the 2020 Roland Garros singles champion, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands in Sunday’s double final. With a win, Krejcikova will become the first woman to win both titles at the same French Open since Mary Pierce in 2000 and join a roster of just 13 women who have achieved the feat in any major tournament of the Open era. .
“The tournament is not over yet for me,” Krejcikova said. “I’m playing again tomorrow. I really have to prepare for tomorrow because I really want to do well with my partner.”
Krejcikova acknowledged that her life might be different now as a Grand Slam champion and all the attention that comes with it, but she insisted that she wanted to remain the same hardworking person she always was and enjoy the trip.
This is also something she learned from Novotna.
“She didn’t act like she won so many titles, she [was] someone special, “said Krejcikova.” She [was] still acting like a normal person. This is something that I really appreciate [about] her. [That] was something that actually guided me to be the same. Win this Grand Slam title in doubles, now in singles, but still the same [person].
“She always said to me, ‘No matter how many titles you’re going to win, you always have to come and say hello, please and thank you. It’s very important to behave really well.’ I take it all and I really enjoy it, because that’s what she actually did. She was a great athlete, she was always very humble. She’s a great role model. I just wanna be [the] as it was. “