Krejcikova has Lendl ice and Novotna fire

Saturday 12 June, 2021
Ian Chadband
Barbora Krejcikova. Barbora Krejcikova.
Barbora Krejcikova is the doubles ace who is now in sight of a glorious French Open singles triumph.

Barbora Krejcikova will be driven by the passion of her late mentor Jana Novotna and the stony determination of another of her great Czech tennis compatriots Ivan Lendl as she seeks the most romantic of French Open triumphs.

Krejcikova's tale has enchanted Roland Garros: the Novotna pupil who has not stopped fighting to prove she is more than just a very fine doubles player and, against all odds, has made Saturday's final against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

She will enter Court Philippe Chatrier armed with the spirit of Novotna, the hugely popular former Wimbledon champion whose death from cancer at just 49 four years ago left her old pupil bereft.

"Every single day, I think about her. I'm really, really sad she's not here any more, that she can't see this," Krejcikova said.

"She's guiding me, guiding me all the time.

"I don't know how much she'd be screaming and jumping at what's happened this week. That's how I remember her. I always wished her to see this.

"She was always supporting me from the start. At 18, I came to her house, just to ask if she can help and guide me; what should I do?

"She said, 'just go and play, because you have this fire inside you. Keep fighting and just go for it'."

That is exactly what the now 25-year-old has done.

Krejcikova first turned herself into a brilliant doubles exponent, good enough to win two grand slam titles with her compatriot Katerina Siniakova - with a third in sight when the pair play in Sunday's Paris final together.

Yet Krejcikova, who is also well-known to Australian Open audiences after three straight triumphs in the mixed doubles, refused to be pigeon-holed, even though it has been a tough road proving her singles capabilities.

"I feel like Jana always knew that I can play this high level," smiled Krejcikova, thinking of the 15 times she had failed even to get through qualifying at grand slams and of how, less than nine months ago, she was ranked 115th in the world.

Now she is up to 33 and rising, having won her first tournament in Strasbourg, and delighting everyone with the variety of her shotmaking.

Against the fiery Maria Sakkari in the semi-final, during which she nervelessly saved a match point, it was like watching a silent chess grandmaster, gradually putting an exasperated opponent into 'czechmate'.

Her delightful game left three-time French Open champ Mats Wilander telling her in an interview on Eurosport: "What a beautiful player to watch you are, Barbora".

Off-court, she admitted to a tearful panic attack before her last-16 match with Sloane Stephens but on-court she seems preternaturally calm.

"I'm lucky. I take after my father. It's in my genes. Thank god he's such a calm guy," she told Czech reporters.

That is where an eight-time grand slam winner comes in.

"When Ivan Lendl played, he was always stone-faced, played well and was successful. I'm calm on the inside too," she said. "I don't get nervous."

Could Krejcikova make Pavlyuchenkova anxious, though?

From what we have seen of the 29-year-old Russian, whose own 52-grand slam wait to make it to the summit is in itself another inspiring tale, probably not.

But win or lose, Krejcikova will savour the day.

"(I'll) just go out there, try to play my best tennis and, most importantly, just enjoy," she said.

It is what Jana would have wanted.