Sport Humble Jana Novotna showed me the way: French Open champ Barbora Krejcikova

Humble Jana Novotna showed me the way: French Open champ Barbora Krejcikova

Barbora Krejcikova looks up, remembering her late mentor Jana Novotna after her French Open win. Photo: AP
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The likeable Barbora Krejcikova reckons her French Open title, plucked seemingly out of nowhere, will not be a life-changer because her late mentor Jana Novotna taught her the humility to go with her grand slam-winning skills.

Three weeks ago, the unseeded Krejcikova had never won a singles title but following her first WTA triumph in Strasbourg, she was left practically in a state of disbelief on Saturday after adding her maiden slam title at Roland Garros.

And in her moment of triumph in Paris following her 6-1 2-6 6-4 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the Czech could feel the delight of her one-time coach, Novotna, shining down on her.

The 25-year-old, now in rare company as a doubles, mixed doubles and singles grand slam winner, recalled when, at 18 and unsure where her tennis career was leading, she went anxiously with her mum in Brno in the Czech Republic to ask the ex-Wimbledon champ for advice.

“I was nervous because she was such a big tennis player, big athlete and everything. But she was just very nice, very warm, not acting like she won so many titles, that she’s somebody special,” Krejcikova said.

“I really appreciated that. She always told me, ‘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. She was a great athlete, still very humble. She’s a big role model. I just want to be same as she was.”

When Novotna, having mentored and coached the youngster who had been bold enough to knock on her door that day, was later dying of cancer in 2017 at just 49, a bereft Krejcikova felt compelled to be at her side.

“We just had a really special bond and when I found out that she was sick, I just felt at the end of her life I have to be there.

“My parents just were telling me not to go, because they’ve seen how it’s actually ruining me. But I felt like I have to go and support her, as she had supported me.

“That’s why she’s looking after me right now.

“That’s actually why I have this many grand slams [three mixed, two women’s doubles and now a singles] because she’s just from somewhere above looking after me. She wants me to win.”

Krejcikova’s natural joy at her triumph, which enchanted everyone at Roland Garros on Saturday – including Pavlyuchenkova, to whom she apologised charmingly for ending a dream – bodes well for a sport always searching for winning personalities.

At the trophy presentation, she sounded like a star-struck teenager while reflecting on how she had met her heroine Justine Henin for the first time on Friday.

“I was like, ”Is it really her?’ I was so surprised that she actually knew my name and actually knew who I am,” she gushed.

Now, Krejcikova’s about to join the elite too, possessing a game with its variety of shot, easy power and intelligent movement that could take her even further. She is about to join the world’s top 15.

Asked if life was going to be different now, she just smiled: “I’m just going to still be the little girl from my city, from my little city, that used to start on the tennis wall.

“I don’t know. Who knows? I mean, I just want to be me. I just don’t want to change.”