Krejcikova and France - A match made in tennis heaven

 - Chris Oddo

Eight months on from her singles breakthrough in Paris, the Czech triple-threat continues to shatter all expectations

Barbora Krejcikova, Roland Garros 2021, third round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Last year was a dream come true for Barbora Krejcikova. Already a two-time doubles and three-time mixed doubles champion at the majors, the Czech had her greatest moment on the singles court, scoring a trip to the fourth round in Paris that catapulted her into the WTA’s top 100 for the first time. 

In 2021 the encore has been even sweeter. 

She cracked the top-50 after reaching the final in Dubai in March, and after earning her first WTA singles title in Strasbourg two weeks ago, the Brno native has earned her first two top-10 victories in Paris this fortnight to once again take her place in the sweet 16. 

Krejcikova enters her fourth-round showdown with 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens carrying an eight-match winning streak.

“Right now I feel super, super happy,” she told reporters after her 6-3, 6-2 victory over No.5 Elina Svitolina on Saturday. 

Her very first Grand Slam doubles crown was clinched on Parisian clay in 2018, alongside her partner Katerina Siniakova. And with her maiden singles title coming on French soil last month, along with her back-to-back fourth-round appearances at Roland-Garros in singles, it's no wonder France holds a special place in Krejcikova's heart.

“I love it in France and I love the clay, I grew up on it. For me it's the best surface. This is also the first tournament that I actually visited when I was younger in 2008 or something,” she told the crowd, a smile beaming, after toppling Svitolina. 

Katerina Siniakova Barbora Krejcikova Roland-Garros 2018.©Philippe Montigny / FFT

It shows in her tennis, as the 25-year-old has chosen the red clay of Roland-Garros as her personal proving ground on the singles court. Krejcikova had never managed a top-130 year-end singles ranking prior to 2020, but she enters this week carrying a ranking of 33, making her one of the most unlikely breakout stories inside the WTA’s top-50. 

Tennis has always had a soft spot for a late-bloomer, especially one with connections to the sport’s storied past.

Coached by the late Jana Novotna from 2014 to 2017, Krejcikova’s success resonates distinctly with those who knew the inspirational Czech legend, author of one of Wimbledon’s most famous title runs, in 1998.

"It's like Jana's legacy lives on a bit stronger than if she hadn't worked with a player,” American legend Pam Shriver told of Novotna, who passed away after a battle with cancer in 2017.

Jana Novotna, Roland Garros 2016 legends© Philippe Montigny/FFT

An unbreakable chain

Shriver, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and longtime doubles partner of Martina Navratilova, says the time is ripe for a skilled doubles player like Krejcikova to make her mark on the singles circuit. 

"I think this is the time where it's possible,” she said. “If you haven't made it by 25, 26, if you haven't made it to the top, it's not as big of a deal today," Shriver said. "Back in my era you would have maybe gone on to another career - but not now." 

Shriver also points out that Krejcikova’s pairing with Novotna is part of an unbreakable circle of WTA legends. 

“I kind of like that it's a third generation of former female players coaching a younger generation,” she said. "It was Betty Stove to Hana Mandlikova, then Mandlikova to Jana Novotna, then Novotna to Krejcikova. I like that Barbora continues that chain of female coaches coaching a WTA player." 

Barbora Krejcikova, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Krejcikova, who sealed her spot in the last 16 last October on what would have been Novotna’s 52nd birthday, always holds the former legend near and dear to her heart. She tries not to put pressure on herself to achieve specific results in Novotna’s honour, instead knowing that playing the game with her heart and soul will be enough. 

It has worked magically this season. 

Double duty

Krejcikova, who reached the doubles quarter-finals on Sunday alongside Katerina Siniakova, points to her doubles experience as a key driver for her singles success. 

“I really think that playing a lot of doubles and playing a lot of also mixed doubles, playing the big courts, playing all these big stadiums, I think that's what's helping me right now,” she said.

“When I go on the court and I know that I'm playing on a big court, against a big player, I know that already I have some kind of experience, and I don't feel that - I'm not stressing about it anymore.”

Shriver agrees. Doubles has helped singles stars learn the ropes of high-stakes tennis for years. She cites Ashleigh Barty and Victoria Azarenka as prime examples and says that now, thanks to the pandemic, is a perfect time to embrace the discipline. 

"I think doubles, there can be a lightness and a little more fun, which I think everybody right now needs to look at - the fun factor,” she said. “If they have a partnership that's working and there is some enjoyment, absolutely keep it going right now." 

She adds that having experience at the business end of a Slam in doubles can only help Krejcikova. 

"For a doubles player to be in the quarters, semis, finals of majors, even though the eyes aren't on doubles as much, to the athlete you gain a ton of experience,” she says. “People don't realise that. To the doubles player winning a Wimbledon, it gives you very similar feelings.” 

For Krejcikova, the task is simple: just keep living the dream. 

"My breakthrough was during the Roland-Garros, which is one of my favourite tournaments, and it's also the tournament where I won my first Grand Slam. Everything was perfect, and ever since the breakthrough to the top 100 I'm really just trying to enjoy because I kind of accomplished one of my biggest dreams,” she said earlier this season in Dubai. “Now I'm just really enjoying and just doing the best I can.”