Barbora Krejcikova thought all the time about her late coach and went from unsettled to Grand Slam champion at the French Open.
Apart from one shaky set, Krejcikova only won her fifth major tournament as a single player by beating 31st place Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 in the final in Roland Garros on Saturday.
When it ended with Pavlyuchenkova’s backhand landing long on the fourth match point for the 25-year-old Czech Krejcikova, they met at the net for a hug.
Then Krejcikova blew kisses in the sky, eyes screwed shut, in homage to her former coach Jana Novotna, the 1998 Wimbledon champion who died of cancer in 2017.
“Your last words were pretty much just enjoying yourself and trying to win a Grand Slam. I know she’s taking care of me somewhere, ”Krejcikova told the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier, which was limited to 5,000 people due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“She was such an inspiration to me. I just really miss her,” said Krejcikova. “I hope she is happy now.”
She is the third unseeded women’s champion in the last five years at Roland Garros.
Krejcikova will now try to become the first woman since Mary Pierce in 2000 to win the French Open singles and doubles titles. Krejcikova and partner Katerina Siniakova already have two Grand Slam double titles and will play in the final of this event on Sunday.
Pavlyuchenkova, placed 31st, played in her first Grand Slam final at the 52nd major tournament of her career.
She was treated for a left leg injury in the second set on Saturday.
This was only the second WTA single title for Krejcikova, but they won it in their last two tournaments. She won the trophy on clay in Strasbourg, France last month and now has a winning streak of 12 games.
She is the sixth consecutive Grand Slam champion to take the trophy at Roland Garros, where the red tone can reduce the effectiveness of fast serves and the sometimes weird bouncing on a surface that frustrates players and requires special footwork.
The matchup on Saturday between two first-time Grand Slam finalists was perhaps a fitting conclusion after two weeks full of surprises.
Naomi Osaka, a four-time major champion who was ranked second, withdrew after a game – and a dispute with Grand Slam officials over a rule that requires speaking to the media – for a mental break to insert. Ash Barty, the 2019 champion, retired from her second round game with a left hip injury. No. 3 Simona Halep, the 2018 champion, never showed up because of a calf injury. Serena Williams was beaten in the fourth round. Defending champion Iga Swiatek lost in the quarterfinals.
Krejcikova spoke openly about her feelings of stress and panic at the start of the tournament before taking on 2017 US Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens in the fourth round.
Krejcikova said she was afraid of not winning a game and burst into tears because she didn’t even want to play the game before her sports psychologist talked her through.
Also good, because Krejcikova beat Stephens 6: 2, 6: 0. This went hand in hand with victories over number 5 seed Elina Svitolina and number 24 Coco Gauff, a 17-year-old American, before Krejcikova saved a match point in the semifinals and defeated Maria Sakkari 9: 7 in the third set.
There was some nervousness in the opening game on Saturday: Krejcikova made a double mistake twice and broke.
But she broke away from it immediately.
Krejcikova shone with her crisp two-handed backhand, net skills refined in doubles and particularly good use of defensive praise. One rolled over Pavlyuchenkova and landed right in a corner for a winner who helped Krejcikova break the 1-1 and start a six-game run that gave her the first set. Another was tossed into the net by a retiring Pavlyuchenkova while attempting overhead.
But Pavlyuchenkova regrouped and took a 5-1 lead in the second set. But then she reached for a backhand, winced, and leaned on her bat as she grabbed her upper left leg.
During the subsequent changeover, she took a medical break. A trainer treated and taped the leg while Pavlyuchenkova lay face down on a towel, a bag of candy within easy reach.
Pavlyuchenkova immediately claimed this set. While Krejcikova took a long walk into the locker room before the third, Pavlyuchenkova stood on the sidelines, pantomiming a serve movement to practice the landing on her left leg.
In the third, it was Krejcikova who kept sniffing forward. When Pavlyuchenkova made a double fault, she took the lead 2-1. After Pavlyuchenkova broke again and crowned it with a great forehand winner, which she celebrated with a scream, Krejcikova again won the upper hand by breaking with a forehand winner to make it 4-3.
Pavlyuchenkova saved two match points at 5-3, and Krejcikova wasted another one with a double mistake in the next game.
But she won it on the following chance and soon kissed the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen and gently rocked the trophy while listening to the Czech national anthem.