Barbora Krejcikova’s icy resolve and Anastasia Pavlyuch chenkova’s try, try and try again perseverance has set up aan unlikely French Open women’s final that will be brimful of emotion for the two combatants on Saturday.
Krejcikova, an unseeded Czech once dismissed sniffily as just a doubles specialist and guided by the spirit of her late mentor Jana Novotna, showed astounding resilience to save a match point while dousing the fire of Maria Sakkari in a marathon semi-final on Thursday.
Her unlikely victory came after Pavlyuchenkova, a Russian stalwart tipped as a prodigiously gifted kid to go on and rule tennis, could finally smile after breaking the record for competing in more grand slams, 52, than any other woman before making her first final.
Asked after her accomplished 7-5 6-3 win over Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek what the 14-year-old world No.1 junior Pavlyuchenkova might have told the 29-year-old version, she laughed: “What took you so long?”
It certainly has not taken world No.33 Krejcikova, a five-time grand slam doubles champ, long to make her singles mark as she delivered, in only her fifth main draw, a performance featuring the good, the bad and the downright lovely as she ousted Sakkari 7-5 4-6 9-7.
Although at points in the match seeming to have completely lost both her backhand and her serve, she dug deep to rescue a match point at 5-3 down in the decider with a backhand drive volley and then break back with the Greek serving for the match.
Did she feel the late Wimbledon champ and Australian Open finalist Novotna come to her aid?
“Every time before the match or after the match I just feel like she’s there, she’s looking after me,” Krejcikova said.
She showed real mental strength too when, while holding a fourth match point of her own, a Sakkari forehand was called long, only for the chair umpire to overrule it.
Hawkeye, not in use at Roland Garros, later revealed the ball really was out and that victory should have been awarded then to Krejcikova.
She did not complain, but shrugged and got on with it.
“I was like, ‘OK, well … It’s fine. Doesn’t matter. Just let’s go, try to win the replayed point’.”
She did not, but soon after an elegant backhand winner, her 29th, to accompany her 58 unforced errors in a match of see-sawing fortunes, sealed victory after an exhausting three hours, 18 minutes .
“I just told myself, ‘just fight, fight, fight until the last point’,” said Krejcikova, who next has a doubles semi-final alongside Katerina Siniakova on Friday and could become the first woman to do the double since Mary Pierce in 2000.
Pavlyuchenkova’s a rare fighter, too. The 31st seed, a winner of 12 tour-level titles who had previously never managed to get past six grand slam quarter-finals, reflected: “It’s been a long road, lots of ups and downs. It’s been a tough one.
“Maybe I had a lot of expectations that I couldn’t deal with over the years,” she added, after beating the record of Italian Roberta Vinci who took 44 slams before reaching her first final at the US Open.
Vinci did not win that 2015 final but Pavlyuchenkova will start favourite.
“I’d love to go further and get more. I feel like I can do better,” said Russia’s first woman slam finalist since Maria Sharapova at Melbourne in 2015.