PARIS – The 2021 French Open will be remembered for its endless surprises. Stars withdrew. Top players lost early.
The trend continued on Thursday as two long shots increased in the women’s championship battle. Elite women’s tennis has been without clear and consistent winners for a while, but a final between Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia and Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic was a scenario no one would have predicted.
Pavlyuchenkova, the 31st seed, defeated unseeded Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals. Krejcikova, also unseeded, upset 17-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece, 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 in a game with wild momentum swing and match points on both sides of the net, even one involved was a reverse line call.
Pavlyuchenkova, 29, is a veteran and became a professional in 2005. Krejcikova(25) is more than a late bloomer, arriving in 2014. But none of them have reached a Grand Slam semifinal before, and that showed when they won despite multiple lost service matches in almost every series and more errors than most players could survive. Yet the effort was enough for each of them, even if it was scarce.
“I always wanted to play a game like this,” Krejcikova said in tears as her three-hour, 18-minute game was completed. ‘Even if I lost today, I would be very proud of myself and just fight. Here and also in life, fighting is the most important thing. ”
There have been only two multiple Grand Slam women’s singles winners over the past four years, the opposite of what happened in an absurd top-heavy men’s competition, dominated for so long by three of the everyday greats.
Women’s tennis looks more like golf. At the start of a Grand Slam event, dozens of women apparently have a chance to play deep into the tournament.
“There’s so much depth,” Sakkari coach Tom Hill said before the semifinals. “Now it’s the first round, the second round, you play against top players who can play.”
Of the two finalists, Krejcikova is the biggest surprise. Her game is filled with prosperity and back hands that are not fast. Her service returns tend to be a loop for the hand. She usually displays limited power and an approach that seems completely out of step with the smash-mouth style that brings so many women to court today.
In Sakkari, Krejcikova has been dealing with a gym rat who has worked for a fitness trainer since she was 14 and has been preparing like a world-class sprinter for tennis. Sakkari (25) likes being in the weight room almost as much as being on the tennis court. Did you hear that the old saw has muscle over her muscles? This is Sakkari.
However, muscles do not win tennis tournaments. Dexterous shooting and surprise can often overwhelm the force.
Sakkari struggled with prosperity all afternoon and coughed up an early lead in the first set, barely surviving the second one after leading 4-0. But when Sakkari was level and the crowd behind her rallied, Krejcikova was on her way to a bathroom break that lasted a few minutes longer than the usual pit stop in the match. Sakkari took the court alone and complained to the referee to get things going or maybe give a warning.
When the game resumed, Sakkari again took an early lead with a service interruption, bringing Krejcikova to 3-5. Krejcikova saved it with a swinging chase, breaking Sakkari’s knockdown in the next game, forcing her to make a series of mistakes on long rallies full of Krejcikova’s deep, lobed backs.
After almost three hours, Krejcikova invented the winning formula. It took another six matches – as Sakkari saved four match points but could not stop hitting, and made 27 errors in the final set – to make the result official.
On the track after the match, Krejcikova thanks Jana Novotna, a Czech compatriot who struggled for years to win a Grand Slam championship until she finally won the 1998 Wimbledon title. When Krejcikova was a teenager, she and her parents asked Novotna for help breaking up. tennis in. Novotna gave it. She died in 2017 at 49 of cancer.
“She’s watching me,” Krejcikova said.
In the other semifinal, Pavlyuchenkova ended years of frustration. She fell short in six Grand Slam quarterfinals before triumphing in Paris on Thursday.
Pavlyuchenkova has given few hints over the past few months that a run of this kind was in the offing. She reached the semi-finals in Madrid last month, but still had little to brag about. She barely held an hour at the Australian Open and lost badly in the first round to Naomi Osaka, the eventual champion.
But in her first Grand Slam semifinal, Pavlyuchenkova had the good fortune to see a player in 86th place in the world.
Pavlyuchenkova was barely in control: she lost her serve twice in the first set, and twice more in the second set. But she was much better than Zidansek, a 23-year-old whose inexperience and nerves showed when she lost her job six times and made 33 unforced errors, compared to 22 for Pavlyuchenkova. Zidansek shot a double error in the middle of the net at the set point, sending a shot that she could easily have put a foot wide on the match point.
Zidansek came back from a series three times during the tournament, winning third sets twice in the equivalent of overtime tennis (9-7 and 8-6), but could not find the same resistance against Pavlyuchenkova.
Pavlyuchenkova was asked on Thursday what her younger I would say now that she has finally reached the final match.
“What took you so long?” she said.
“It’s been a long road,” she continued. “I had my own long special road. Everyone has different ways. ”