WTA/ATP: Life in the pressure cooker

Barbora Krejcikova, Elise Mertens, Novak Djokovic and Taylor Fritz all performed well this weekend.

Barbora Krejcikova / Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alix Ramsay

It was Billie Jean King who famously said all those years ago that “pressure is a privilege” – and no one argues with BJK. But, even so, it doesn’t make pressure any easier to deal with. And the pressure of being the hometown hero in a final is about as big as it gets.

Krejcikova is "a different player"

Yet for Barbora Krejcikova, playing in front of a packed house in Ostrava was just the sort of pressure she needed. After an injury-blighted season, she notched up her second title in two weeks by beating Iga Swiatek 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-3. It took three hours and 16 minutes of hard graft but, cheered to the rafters by the Czech crowd, she finally wrenched the trophy from the world No.1’s grasp. It was the first time Swiatek had been beaten in a final since 2019 but if the followers of the form book were surprised, Krejcikova wasn’t.

“I always felt like [my tennis] is there, it's just hiding,” she told the WTA website. “I didn't just forget all that I did last year. I still felt like it's there.”

Last year, the 26-year-old Czech won the Roland Garros title. A Grand Slam singles champion at last, she had announced herself as a major contender. At the start of this year, she reached the final in Sydney and the quarter-finals at the Australian Open. By February, she was the world No.2. But that was when she was felled by an elbow injury and did not play again until it was time to defend her Roland Garros trophy. And that did not go well – she lost in the first round.

No matter; Krejcikova kept working and waiting. The results stubbornly refused to materialise but as she headed to Tallinn last week, she felt that things were beginning to fall into place. At the end of that week, she was able to lift her first piece of silverware in 14 months. By the time she got to Ostrava, she was back in the groove.

“I'm really pleased that everything that I went through and everything that happened,” she said. “It changed me and gave me extra energy. I think I'm a different player, a different person. I'm really happy to be part of the big game again.”

As for that pressure business, Krejcikova was loving every minute of it.

“I was expecting it to be a big match so I was enjoying it,” she said. “Playing finals against Iga is really difficult, but I'm really happy that I was able to do that. I was putting in so much effort and so much fight; fighting until the last ball. For sure it's one of the biggest matches for me, with the performance and the conditions, the atmosphere with the fans, just everything. It was one of the most amazing matches for me.”

Djokovic is really back

Novak Djokovic was enjoying the same feeling of elation and satisfaction of a job well done as he, too, collected his second title in two weeks. The Serb eased his way past Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 in a brisk 76 minutes to win the Astana Open. Following on from his win in Tel Aviv the previous week, it is a victory that will send a chill through the locker room. Djokovic is back.

After 10 weeks of twiddling his thumbs after Wimbledon (his vaccination status meant that he was unable to enter the United States for the hard court summer swing), he is rested, fit and, seemingly, in blistering form. And he cannot wait to get his teeth into the last few weeks of the season.

“I could not ask for a better re-start of the season,” he said. “I’m super-pumped and motivated to end the season as well as I have done these past couple of weeks.”

Fritz, a third title and the top 10

If Djokovic was pleased with his win, Taylor Fritz was utterly stunned with his. He edged past Frances Tiafoe 7-6(3), 7-6(2) to claim the Japan Open in Tokyo on Sunday but just days before, he was confined to his hotel room in Seoul and feeling dreadful after testing positive for Covid. After a week in quarantine, he was cleared to travel just in time to catch a flight to Tokyo and sign in for the tournament. Once in, he hit the ground running.

"It's really crazy that I went from being in quarantine, having to fly here, and then winning the tournament,” he said. “It's definitely something that I didn't expect."

Never doubting that he could hit the ball well enough, his main concern was that the aftereffects of the virus coupled with a week of inactivity would leave him short on stamina. Fortunately, the fast courts helped him – shorter rallies, less running – in the early rounds and by the time he got to the final he was back to full strength. Just to make the victory all the sweeter, his third title of the year pushed him into the world’s top 10 for the first time – he is currently ranked No.8.

Mertens stops Cornet

Elise Mertens wasted no time in securing her first title in 18 months and the seventh of her career. She powered through the last 11 games of the Jasmin Open final in Monastir to marmalise Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-0 in 82 minutes. And Cornet had not dropped a set all week until then. After a pretty underwhelming year so far, it was just the tonic the Belgian was looking for.

“When they said I was in my first semi-final this year, I was like, ‘OK, it’s October, it’s never too late to start the year, or end the year with a good one,’” she said. "It gives you confidence, and it gives you a little boost for all the work that you do. Never stop believing, I guess, and I have my seventh title."