Major trophy calls for first-time finalists

 - Chris Oddo

For the sixth consecutive year, a maiden Slam champion will be crowned after the RG women's singles final

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Roland-Garros 2021, second round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

An unseeded inspiration and a late-blooming revelation are set to lock horns in a Roland-Garros women’s singles final for the ages. 

No.31 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has already broken a long-standing record with her performance in Paris. With 52 Grand Slam main draw appearances under her belt she has endured the longest wait before reaching her maiden major final.

On Thursday after her 7-5, 6-3 win over Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek in the semi-finals, she was asked what a 14-year-old version of herself would have said about the her own arduous journey to the final. 

“What took you so long?” she deadpanned. 

Pavlyuchenkova is not the only pillar of perseverance taking part in Saturday's final on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Her opponent, 25-year-old Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, has endured her own wait to reach as far. 

A two-time Grand Slam doubles champion and former doubles No.1, Krejcikova didn’t start to make her mark in singles until 2020, when she powered into the second week at Roland-Garros on her second career appearance with a ranking of No.114.

"I always wanted to play matches like this," Krejcikova said. "I always wanted to play tournaments like this, big tournaments, big opponents, last rounds," she said. "It was always something that I wanted to achieve. It was just taking so long. It just took me some time, but I think right now it's actually right moment."

If that run was a dream come true, this Paris fortnight is divine intervention. Guided by the spirit of her former coach Jana Novotna - the 1998 Wimbledon champion who coached her from 2014 to 2017 - Krejcikova is bidding to become the first player to win the singles and doubles titles in Paris since Mary Pierce swept both trophies in 2000. 

She will play the doubles final on Sunday, alongside her partner Katerina Siniakova, against Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek.

On Thursday, after Krejcikova saved a match point to defeat Maria Sakkari in their epic semi-final, the Czech took the mic and paid tribute to the widely-adored Novotna, who passed away after a battle with cancer at age 49 in November 2017. 

“Every time before the match or after the match I just feel like she's there, she's looking after me,” she said. 

With so much at stake on Saturday, between two players who have never met before, could Krejcikova’s connection to Novotna be an X-factor? 

"This destiny thing, riding with Jana on her shoulder, you get inspiration and you get strength from things like that, it can be an intangible that nobody can really quantify,” Pam Shriver, a 22-time Grand Slam champion in doubles told

Barbora Krejcikova, Roland-Garros 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Krejcikova and Pavlyuchenkova are bidding for history on many levels on Saturday. 

Krejcikova could become the first woman to win the women’s singles tournament at Roland-Garros after saving a match point since Justine Henin in 2005. She will try to become the first Czech woman to win in Paris since Hana Mandlikova in 1981.

Pavlyuchenkova, if victorious, would break the record for most previous Grand Slam appearances before winning a maiden major title. Flavia Pennetta, who won the 2015 US Open title on her 49th appearance at a Slam, currently owns the record. 

"Their stories are quite rich, really," Shriver said. "Pavlyuchenkova, how long it's taken her to even reach a semi-final - good for her. I think it's a sign of the times where perseverance and resilience play a role - just keep trying. Keep trying."

This will mark the sixth consecutive year a woman will pick up her maiden major at Roland-Garros - but in 2021 the drama has ramped up. 

"In an era of the underdog doing pretty well, this Roland-Garros takes the cake,” Shriver said. 

It may have taken a while for Pavlychenkova to get to her first major final, but the thought was always on her mind.

"That's for us the biggest achievement you can get," she said after reaching the final. "That's what you are playing for. I think about it all the time. Like been thinking about it since I was a junior, since I was a little kid, since I started playing tennis. That's what you are playing for. That's what you want. It's been there in my head forever."

Krejcikova’s brilliant doubles success has clearly primed her for sudden success on the singles court. The Czech had ice in her veins during Thursday’s pressure-cooker against Sakkari, proving that the big stage in singles is not too big for her, even if it is just her fifth appearance in singles at a major. 

Mattek-Sands believes no matter what happens in Saturday's final, the match-up represents a well-deserved moment for two women who have paid their dues.

"It's just nice to see some players that love playing tennis, are out there for the love of the game, doing so well at this stage in their career," said the American. "My hat is off to both of them. I think it will be a great final.”