Krejcikova's major glory a fitting tribute to Novotna

 - Dan Imhoff

Unseeded Czech honours former coach with maiden Grand Slam singles title

Barbora Krejcikova, Roland-Garros 2021, final© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

If not for the courage to front up to a Czech legend’s house uninvited, Barbora Krejcikova doubts she would be celebrating an improbable ascent to the summit of the Roland-Garros podium.

Seven years on from when an 18-year-old Krejcikova knocked on the door of the late, great Jana Novotna for advice, the world No.33 honoured her mentor and coach with a remarkable maiden Grand Slam singles triumph on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Saturday.

Outside the top 100 only nine months ago, the Czech’s 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova capped a magical run and a fitting tribute to the former Wimbledon champion.

“I'm extremely happy. It's a dream come true, for sure,” Krejcikova said. “I'm just really happy that I was able to handle it as I did, that mentally I think that was the biggest key.

“I spoke with my psychologist again and we spoke about it a lot. I just knew that as soon as I'm going to enter the court, I'm just not going to be panicking anymore. That was actually happening… I mean, it's something I have always dreamed about, winning here – my first doubles title, then some [other Grand Slam] doubles title, then winning the mixed ones.

“Now I was just telling myself, ‘It would be really nice if I can get the Grand Slam in all three categories’. Now it's happening. I cannot believe it.”

In what was only her fifth Grand Slam singles main draw, the 25-year-old Czech said she already felt right at home on the biggest stadiums, as a result of those two majors in doubles and three in mixed doubles.

Her opponent, Pavlyuchenkova, had reached six major quarter-finals before and was appearing in her 52nd Grand Slam main draw, but her superior experience on the singles arena ultimately had no definitive influence on the result.

A new women's singles major champion was assured for the sixth year in succession on Court Philippe-Chatrier and even after three match points had slipped her grasp, Krejcikova never felt alone as she became the first Czech Roland-Garros winner since Hana Mandlikova 40 years ago.

She vowed her pragmatic approach to life on and off the court would not change a scrap in the aftermath. It was an outlook of which she knew the similarly down-to-earth Novotna would be proud.

Barbora Krejcikova, Martina Navratilova, Roland-Garros 2021, final© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Novotna – a former Wimbledon champion – succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2017, three years after she agreed to come on board as coach.

“When I went there for the very first time I was nervous because she was such an amazing person, such a big tennis player, big athlete and everything. She was always just very nice, very warm,” Krejcikova said.

“She wasn't acting like she won so many titles, that she's somebody special. She's always acting like a normal person… She always told me like, ‘Doesn't 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 very nice'.

“I take all of this and I really appreciate because that's what she was actually doing. She was a great athlete. She was still very humble. She's a big role model. I just want to be the same as she was.”

Another Czech-born legend, Martina Navratilova was aptly on hand to present the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen. She spoke of her immense pride at seeing the girl from Brno honour her good friend's legacy.

“I knew she was a champion, she has a lot of courage, because in 2014 when you found out that Jana moved back to Brno you had the courage to go knock on her door and ask her for help,” Navratilova said on court. “What made you think it was OK to do that? What gave you that courage?”

“My mum,” Krejcikova quipped.

Now, Krejcikova has the opportunity to replicate what Frenchwoman Mary Piece achieved in 2000, winning both singles and doubles in the same year at Roland-Garros.

Krejickova will find out on Sunday, when she teams up with compatriot Katerina Siniakova to face Iga Swiatek and Bethanie Mattek-Sands for the trophy.

Rest assured, there will be no shortage of inspiration from her late mentor.

“That's actually why I have this many Grand Slams, because she's just from somewhere above looking after me,” said Krejcikova, who would return to the top of the doubles rankings should she win on Sunday. “She wants me to win. She knows what it means to me, and I know what it would mean to her.”

Barbora Krejcikova, Roland-Garros 2021, final© Amèlie Laurin/FFT