Barbora Krejcikova held her nerve to see off a match point and a controversial line call to advance to the French Open final after upsetting Maria Sakkari, the No 17 seed from Greece, 7-5 4-6 9-7, in a 3 hour 18 marathon semi-final battle.
I always wanted to play matches like this. 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 the right moment. Especially mentally I think I’m just there. I really matured. Barbora Krejcikova
“I actually think we both deserve to win because we played a really, really great match,” Krejcikova said, during her post-match press conference. “But only one can win. I’m really happy that it’s me, that I’m going to have another chance to play another match.”
Krejcikova dragged herself back from the brink of facing a match point at 3-5 in the third set, and then rode an emotional roller-coaster when she thought she had booked her place in the final before a wrong line call went against her at 7-8, 30-40, after Sakkari hit a forehand that was called long by the line judge, and was overturned by the umpire’s mark check.
TV replays showed that the ball was actually out and Krejcikova, who is bidding to become the first Czech woman to win the title at Roland Garros since Hana Mandlikova in 1981, then saw off a game point before wrapping it up on her next, and 5th, match point.
She could easily have lost her composure after the umpire’s decision to rule the ball in, but Krejcikova barely protested.
“No Hawk-Eye on clay, it’s difficult. I mean, sometimes it’s a help, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t know. It’s very difficult,” said the World No 33.
“At that moment I was just like, ‘Well, it’s out, but what can you do?’ The chair umpire, he has seen it as in. What can I do? I cannot do anything about it. I cannot call anyone, change his decision.
“I was like… it’s fine. Doesn’t matter. Just let’s go.”
Krejcikova had struggled with nerves throughout but proved more consistent than Sakkari, who got tight when she served for the match at 5-4 in the decider when both players raised their games.
With both playing in their first Grand Slam semi-final, the match got off to a shaky start and it was Sakkari who was the first to hold on a sunbaked Court Philippe Chatrier to open a 3-1 lead, but her advantage was short-lived.
Krejcikova, who came into the semi-final on a 10-match winning streak after claiming the title in Strasbourg last month, rallied back as Sakkari lost her way in the 6th game, breaking for 5-3 with a superb lob as she retrieved a drop-shot, but then dropped her serve straight after with a double-fault on game point.
She sealed the opening set with yet another break, though, when Sakkari’s crosscourt forehand went wide after clipping the net cord.
The Greek raced to a 4-0 lead in the second but Krejcikova cancelled out one of the two breaks of serve to narrow the deficit to 3-4, only for Sakkari to serve it out, letting out a huge scream out as she sent the contest into a decider.
“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.”
Sakkari broke in the first game of the third, and managed to hold after conceding 5 breaks of serve in the first two sets.
Krejcikova saved a match point on her serve at 3-5, forcing Sakkari to serve for the match and the Greek fell 0-30 behind after two unforced errors before saving a break point with a sizzling crosscourt backhand winner.
She was broken when she sent a backhand into the net to allow Krejcikova to level at 5-5.
Serving at 6-7, Sakkari saved 3 match points and Krejcikova thought she had it in the bag on her 4th match point at 7-8 when the controversial line ruling occurred.
“You just have to put everything together and just keep working, next one, next one, next one,” she explained.
The 25-year-old was also at a point where she felt simply being on court in such a match was enough and added she would have been proud of herself even if she had lost.
“I always wanted to play matches like this. 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,” she said.
“It just took me some time, but I think right now it’s actually the 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, also with this pandemic and everything.”
Sakkari, the highest seed left in the women’s draw at No 17, admitted to making a rookie error when she stood on the verge of becoming the first Greek woman to reach a Grand Slam final.
Instead of continuing with the attacking game that had seen her come from a set down and move to within a point of victory at 5-3 in the decider, stress took over.
“Yeah, I have to be deadly honest – I got stressed, starting thinking that I’m a point away from being in the final. I guess it’s a rookie mistake,” admitted the 25-year-old with a shrug.
“Just got a little bit stressed, got a little bit more passive on my game. Yeah, didn’t go for it. I just didn’t play offensive. I was a little bit defensive, especially in the big points.”
After missing out on her match point, the big-hitting Sakkari then failed to serve out for the match at 5-4 as the resilient unseeded Czech Krejcikova battled back and proved the stronger player in the encounter.
“I couldn’t find a way to break her after five-all,” said Sakkari, who, like Krejcikova, had been in her maiden major semi-final.
“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. It’s human emotions, but I think I’ll learn from it.
“Of course, I’m proud of my run here, but it hurts a lot because I was so close. I was just one point away. But what can you do? I just have to embrace it and just move forward.
“I would have done things differently now. It’s too late now,” she said, offering a rueful smile.
Ironically, she produced her most decisive and aggressive tennis when saving 4 match points with some superb shots.
“I never give up. I never felt like I gave up today. I just tried to find a way when I was match point down. I went for it.”
Krejcikova will face Russian 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Saturday, who defeated Tamara Zidansek, 7-5 6-3, earlier in the day.
It is 6 years since fellow Czech Lucie Safarova reached the final, and Krejcikova will be looking to emulate fellow Czech Hana Mandlikova, who won the title at Roland Garros in 1981.
“When I was young, a junior, I wanted to play matches like this, such challenging matches. We both had our chances,” said Krejcikova. “Even if I had lost today I would have been proud of myself. I was just fighting, that’s the most important.
“Anastasia, she’s really good player, really experienced,” Krejcikova added. “She’s in a final, so she must be on a roll, playing well.
“I just think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m just really going to enjoy it because I was never expecting to actually be this far during this tournament.
“I’m just going to have fun and just going to enjoy and fight until the end.”
Just 8 months ago, when Roland Garros was last contested, Krejcikova was ranked World No114 and playing Challenger events in preparation for the clay-court major and a career-best fourth-round run in Paris turned around her singles career, with the Czech now on the verge of the Top 20.
Krejcikova has been fighting throughout her career and while many have labeled her a doubles specialist because of her success with partner Katerina Siniakova, she has been working diligently to prove she can have the same results in singles.
Unlike Pavlyuchenkova, Krejcikova didn’t always have grand aspirations for her time in the sport.
She enjoyed playing tennis but said it didn’t occur to her she could even play professionally until she was 16 or 17 and succeeding at the junior level where she achieved a No. 3 ranking in juniors and won the girls’ doubles titles at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
She arrived in Paris ranked No 33 and is now projected to be just outside the top 20.
“It was just taking so long,” Krejcikova said. “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, also with this pandemic and everything. I don’t really know what I think. I’m just full of emotions right now.”
Krejcikova and Pavlyuchenkova have never played against one another in singles, but they have met twice in doubles with Krejcikova winning both matches.
The Czech is thinking first about her doubles semi-final on Friday and remains hopeful of reaching two Grand Slam finals in Paris.