Krejcikova's fairy tale continues

Czech demonstrated poise under pressure as she squeaked past Maria Sakkari into her maiden Slam final

Barbora Krejcikova, Roland-Garros 2021, semi-final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

The Cinderella rise of Barbora Krejcikova has captivated tennis fans ever since she stormed to the second week at Roland-Garros last autumn, with a ranking of 114. 

On Thursday in Paris, the 25-year-old Czech authored another chapter of a fairy tale that is both inspiring and inspired. 

Unseeded Krejcikova saved a match point and notched a dramatic 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 triumph over No.17 seed Maria Sakkari, claiming a spot in her maiden Grand Slam singles final, where she will face Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the No.31 seed. 

“I cannot believe it's actually happening,” Krejcikova said, visibly emotional in her post-match press conference. “I cannot believe it.”

The complicated scoreline only partially explains the complexity of the three-hour and 18-minute seesaw battle that will go down as the longest ever women’s semi-final at Roland-Garros, in terms of games played. 

Both players displayed extraordinary mental toughness across the 84-minute deciding set that felt more like a roller coaster ride than a tennis match at times. 

“I think the match was really up and down,” Krejcikova said. “I just told myself, 'Just fight, fight, fight until the last point'. I'm happy that I was really fighting.” 

It has been a remarkable run for the Czech this spring.

Krejcikova, a former doubles world No.1, had never won a singles title until two weeks ago, when she claimed the trophy in Strasbourg, on the eve of Roland-Garros.

Now, riding a career-best 11-match tour-level winning streak, she’ll aim to become the first woman to hoist the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen after a saving match point in 16 years. 

Still alive in the doubles draw, she could become the first woman to claim the singles and doubles titles in Paris since Mary Pierce in 2000.

Barbora Krejcikova, Maria Sakkari, Roland Garros 2021, semi-final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Maria 'disappointed but proud'

Sakkari fought valiantly in defeat, saving three match points in true Spartan fashion while serving at 6-7 in the third set, and another at 7-8 when a controversial overrule allowed her to replay the 30-40 point. 

“I have to be deadly honest: I got stressed, starting thinking that I'm a point away from being in the final,” the 25-year-old Sakkari confessed. “I guess it's a rookie mistake. Good thing is that if I give myself a chance again to be in that position, then I know that I don't have to do it again.” 

As the first Greek woman to ever reach a Grand Slam semi-final, Sakkari has plenty to be proud of.

"I'm proud of my run here, but it hurts," she said. "Today's loss hurts a lot because I was so close. I was just one point away. But what can you do? There are lots of positives and some negatives, as well. I just have to embrace it and just move forward and see how am I going to do it the next time."

Maria Sakkari, Roland Garros 2021, semi-final© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Guided by a legend

Over the course of these last few years, Krejcikova has made it clear that her relationship with the great Jana Novotna has played a pivotal role in her success.

The Czech legend, who coached Krejcikova from 2014 to 2017 before passing after a battle with cancer in November of 2017, is revered by those who knew her and widely adored in the tennis community. Her legacy continues to grow, thanks to the success of Krejcikova.

After the dust settled on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Krejcikova made sure not to leave the stadium without paying tribute to the decorated Hall-of-Famer, who won the 1998 Wimbledon title as well as 12 Grand Slam doubles title and another four in mixed. 

“From upstairs, she’s just really looking after me,” Krejcikova told the crowd. “I really miss her and I really want to thank her - because of her I’m here.” 

Asked after the match by a reporter if she could sometimes feel Novotna guiding her on the court, Krejcikova explained: “I don't really think about the things from, like, outside. It's something actually she [taught] me.” 

She concluded, however, that Novotna is never far from her heart: “Like every time before the match or after the match I just feel like she's there, she's looking after me.”

This weekend in Paris, Krejcikova is ready to savour a moment she feels has been a long time coming.

“I always wanted to play matches like this,” she said. “I always wanted to play tournaments like this, big tournaments, big opponents, last rounds. 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. Especially mentally I think I'm just there. I really matured. I just really appreciate things a lot, especially after what I've gone through.”