AFP/ Paris, France
Russian, a quarter-finalist in Paris a decade ago, is the first woman to play more than 50 majors before making her first final
Barbora Krejcikova will play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the French Open final after the Czech world number 33 saved a match point to defeat Greek 17th seed Maria Sakkari 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 yesterday.
Krejcikova, 25, is the fourth unseeded women’s finalist in five years at Roland Garros. She won the French Open doubles title in 2018 but her best previous result in singles was a run to the fourth round here last year.
It will be the sixth successive French Open to crown a first-time women’s major champion.
“I always wanted to play a match like this, when I was younger, playing juniors, I always wanted to play such a challenging match where we both had chances and were playing so well,” said Krejcikova.
“Even if I lost today I would be very proud of myself, because I was fighting. That is the most important thing, in here and in our own life.”
Both players made a nervy start to their maiden Grand Slam semi-final, with 17th seed Sakkari the first to hold serve in the fourth game as she took a 3-1 lead.
But Krejcikova picked up the next four, pulling 5-3 ahead with a sublime lob that left her serving for the set.
The Czech was then broken to love as Sakkari rattled off eight points in a row to level at 5-5. A routine hold from Krejcikova put the pressure back on Sakkari, who hammered a forehand long before surrendering the set as her shot clipped the net and floated wide.
Sakkari, who took down last year’s runner-up Sofia Kenin and then reigning champion Iga Swiatek in the past two rounds, regrouped and raced 4-0 ahead in the second.
The Greek fended off a spirited comeback from Krejcikova to force a decider after locking down a third set point.
Sakkari broke for a 2-1 edge as Krejcikova dragged a backhand wide, saving a break point in the next game to consolidate as the finish line crept ever closer.
The Greek had match point at 5-3 but the resilient Krejcikova stayed alive with a sweeping backhand volley, and then broke back before moving 6-5 in front.
Krejcikova watched three match points of her own pass by at 7-6, Sakkari saving a pair with a crunching backhand winner and an ace.
Krejcikova held again with ease and brought up another match point on Sakkari’s serve. A forehand from the Greek was called long, but the chair umpire dramatically overruled — even as TV replays showed the ball to be out.
Rather than dwell on her apparent hard luck, Krejcikova brought up a fifth match point, converting after three hours and 18 minutes with a backhand winner down the line.
Earlier, Pavlyuchenkova beat world number 85 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia 7-5, 6-3 to reach a first Grand Slam final at a record 52nd attempt at the French Open yesterday.
Pavlyuchenkova, a quarter-finalist in Paris a decade ago, became the first woman to play more than 50 majors before making her first final, breaking the previous mark of 44 set by 2015 US Open runner-up Roberta Vinci.
“I am so tired and so happy, it is very emotional,” said Pavlyuchenkova. “It was difficult, I tried to fight very hard and to work on the tactical side. It is important to stay focused and in the right zone for the final on Saturday.”
The 31st seed dropped serve in the opening game on a sun-drenched Court Philippe Chatrier but capitalised on a fourth break point against Zidansek to break back for 2-2.
Pavlyuchenkova, a former junior world number one and Roland Garros girls’ singles finalist in 2006, surged 5-3 ahead as Zidansek sprayed a forehand wide.
But the Slovenian immediately broke back, rewarded for her persistence and tireless defence — pulling off a remarkable backhand volley, throwing her racquet at the ball and watching in astonishment as it caught the line.
Zidansek then carved herself two break points at 5-5 but Pavlyuchenkova managed to hold, and the Russian struck the following game to wrap up the first set as her opponent committed a costly double fault.
Pavlyuchenkova rolled that momentum over into the second set, breaking in a lengthy second game to lead 2-0. Zidansek responded to get back on serve but was again broken as the Russian swept into a 4-1 advantage.
Zidansek, twice two points from defeat in the first round here, continued to scrap hard and the nerves resurfaced for Pavlyuchenkova as two double faults allowed the Slovenian to claw her way back to 4-3.
But Pavlyuchenkova was not going to be denied, as another break left her serving for the match, with victory assured when Zidansek fired wide.
Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova serves the ball to Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek (not pictured) during their French Open women’s singles semi-final at Roland Garros in Paris yesterday. (AFP)
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