June 12, 2021

From Out of the Blue

Paris has long been considered a place where magic can happen, and that may be no place where that's more evident than on the courts of Roland Garros.

For the last half decade, five ladies have claimed their first Grand Slam titles here, some of them coming fom seemingly out of nowhere to do it. And today, unseeded and relatively unheralded Barbora Krejcikova became the latest one to do it.

It's not that the 25-year-old Czech has been completely off the radar, but until last September almost all of her successes had come on the doubles court. A paired titleist with Katarina Siniakova at the French Open and Wimbledon in 2018, and a runner up in Melbourne this year, she's picked up eight titles in that specialty over the years and reached #1 in the world in those rankings.

And while she remained in triple digits on the singles side of things, it was on these very courts last year that she began her ascent. A win over compatriot -- and fellow doubles standout -- Barbora Strycova in the second round and a resurgent Tsvetana Pironkova in the third got her to her first Major sweet sixteen, which she lost to that event's breakout, Nadia Podoroska. The run, though, helped her climb to #85 in the world and, with a semifinal in Linz and a runner-up finish in Dubai, she's continued to climb. A title in Strasbourg literally the day before play started at the French -- her first ever solo crown -- put her just outside of seeding territory.

And the streak didn't stop there. After dropping her opening set in Paris, she went on to take the next nine, with straight set victories over the likes of fifth seed Elina Svitolina, 2018 runner-up Sloane Stephens, and Parma champ Coco Gauff. She faced match point against Maria Sakkari in the semis, but powered through to reach the final in one of the unlikeliest of performances.

In Saturday's final she faced Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, another player who'd taken her time to reach this level. A three-time Junior Slam titleist, and a runner-up in the French Girls' draw in 2006, she made the quarters in Paris in 2011 but couldn't get out of the third round since. She was just barely seeded for this event, but pulled off wins just as impressive as Krejcikova's, stunning Aryna Sabalenka, one of my favorites for the trophy, Victoria Azarenka, and her Serena-slaying doubles partner Elena Rybakina on the way. It took her a record 52 tries to make her first Major final, and as the relative veteran in the final, seemed in a good position to take home the title.

But Krejcikova had other plans. She ran away with the first set in about half an hour and, though things see-sawed in the second with Pavs able to rebound and force a decider, it was the on-paper underdog able to draw first blood in the third. After what had been a lop-sided start, it was encouraging to see things stay so close at the end, and while the Russian was able to save a couple championship points on her own serve, ultimately Krejcikova was able to serve it out and win the ultimate prize.

That makes it a pretty nice three weeks for someone who'd only ever reached one singles final before this year. And, to further sweeten the pot, she's got a shot at picking up another doubles title with Siniakova tomorrow. She'd be the first person since Mary Pierce in 2000 to go home with both trophies. But win or lose Sunday, she's certainly proven the breadth of her talent over the last few weeks.

And while this win may seem to have come from nowhere, it's exactly that talent that'll help Krejcikova stick around for some time to come.

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