PARIS: Barbora Krejcikova won her maiden Grand Slam singles title at the French Open on Saturday, beating Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to become the first Czech woman in 40 years to conquer Roland Garros before dedicating her victory to former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna who died four years ago.
Krejcikova, ranked 33 in the world and playing just her fifth main draw in a Slams singles event, triumphed 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 for a second career title.
The 25-year-old emulates compatriot Hana Mandlikova who claimed the trophy in Paris in 1981.
The 25-year-old Krejcikova paid an emotional tribute to her mentor Novotna, who died of cancer at the age of 49 in 2017.
“It’s hard to put into words. I cannot believe I have just won a Grand Slam,” said Krejcikova who was still outside the top 100 when the 2020 French Open took place last October.
“I spent a lot of time with Jana before she died. Her last words to me were ‘enjoy tennis and try and win a Grand Slam’.
“I know she’s looking after me. All this is pretty much because she is looking after me.
“It was amazing that I got the chance to meet her. She was such an inspiration. I miss her and I hope she’s really happy,” added Krejcikova who had to save a match point in her semifinal to defeat Maria Sakkari.
Krejcikova, who can also win a third Grand Slam women’s doubles title on Sunday with Katerina Siniakova, was presented with the trophy by Czech-born Martina Navratilova who won two French Opens in 1982 and 1984 but as an American citizen.
Krejcikova will rise to number 15 in the world as a result of her win on Saturday as she became the sixth successive first-time major winner in Paris.
She is also the third unseeded champion at Roland Garros in the last five years after Jelena Ostapenko in 2017 and Iga Swiatek in 2020.
If she adds the doubles on Sunday, she’ll be the first player since Mary Pierce in 2000 to claim both titles at the same Roland Garros.
Pavlyuchenkova was playing in her first Slam final at the 52nd attempt and was attempting to become the third oldest first-time winner of a major.
“I was preparing a speech for this moment ever since I was a little kid and now I am lost for words,” said the 29-year-old.
“Many thanks to my friends who came here from all over the world for one match — maybe they thought this was my one and only chance!
“Congratulations to Barbora. I don’t know how you play singles and doubles. I was dead on the last point.”
In a nervy start to the final, Krejcikova was broken in the first game, serving up two double faults.
However, the Russian was unable to capitalize and dropped the next six games as her Czech opponent grabbed three breaks and raced way with the opener inside half an hour.
Krejcikova was rewarded for her bold attacking, hitting 13 winners to the Russian’s seven.
Pavlyuchenkova, who made her Slam debut back in 2007, was the more composed player in the second set, stretching out to 5-1.
A medical timeout at 5-2, during which she was seen munching Haribo gummy bears, merely delayed the Russian leveling the final.
In the decider, the players exchanged breaks in the third and fourth games, before the Czech broke to love for 4-3 on the back of a 10-shot rally. Pavlyuchenkova saved two championship points in the ninth game and a third in the 10th but Krejcikova became champion on the fourth when the Russian hit long.
Both women capitalized on a draw in which the top seeds fell and just kept falling.
World No. 1 and 2019 champion Ashleigh Barty hobbled out in the second round.
Serena Williams was knocked out in the fourth round, world number two Naomi Osaka withdrew after one match, while 2018 champion Simona Halep never even made it to Paris.