Strasbourg Comebacks Unite Cirstea, Krejcikova

Barbora Krejcikova (photo: @WTA_Strasbourg/Twitter)

STRASBOURG/WASHINGTON, May 28, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Sorana Cirstea has been lights out on clay this season, while Barbora Krejcikova is enjoying a career-best singles ranking after establishing herself as a Grand Slam doubles champion. Each has put together a solid run at the Internationaux de Strasbourg in northeastern France this week, stringing together impressive victories that has lifted each into Saturday’s title match.

However, before either player could attain their stature, both had to fight back during their respective semifinal matches to win in come-from-behind fashion.

On Friday, the 61st-ranked Cirstea’s three-set comeback victory advanced her to a first-time final in Strasbourg and sixth career WTA final overall. It will be her second title match of the season after winning her first WTA tour-level title in 13 years in Istanbul last month. Cirstea defeated No. 8 seed Magda Linette of Poland, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, in two hours and eight minutes.

Then, the No. 38 Krejcikova of the Czech Republic dashed 216th-ranked German Jule Niemeier‘s hopes of playing in her first WTA tour-level final with a persevering 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Throughout the first semifinal on Patrice-Dominguez Court, played in 18-degree Celsius conditions with few clouds overhead, Cirstea showed plenty of determination and fight. After being broken in the fourth game of the match and subsequently losing the opening set 6-3, the Romanian from Bucharest became more determined and fought back.

In the second set, Cirstea overcame consecutive breaks of her serve in the third and fifth games and broke the 48th-ranked Linette twice to remain level at 3-all. Then, with a love hold giving her a 5-4 advantage, Cirstea promptly broke Linette’s serve to win the middle set 6-4, after the Polish No. 2 ended a three-shot rally with a netted backhand return.

With little margin for error in the final set, Cirstea broke Linette’s to go ahead 4-2 – converting her fourth break point of the match – and consolidated it with a hold at 30 for a 5-2 lead. Cirstea broke Linette to put the match away in the next game and flashed a clinched left fist and a smile in celebration as the crowd applauded her victory. Her success under pressure denied Linette of a fifth WTA singles final appearance.

“It was a very tough match,” Cirstea said during her on-court interview. “I think both Magda and I played really solid and really good. Even if I lost the first set, I started off playing well, but my opponent was just a little better. Then, I tried to be a little bit smarter and find different ways to attack and take charge, and it worked.”

In a battle of hard hitters, Cirstea overcame 50 unforced errors and three service breaks to hit 24 winners and finished with five breaks of Linette’s serve in 12 tries. She won 71 percent (25 of 35) of her first-serve points and outpointed her opponent 96-83. Linette hit 14 winners but committed 47 unforced errors.

Later, during her virtual interview with local and international media, Cirstea told Tennis TourTalk that she thought from the beginning, the semifinal was played at a very good level by both her and Linette. “Both of us were playing well, but I thought I was missing too many returns, not putting the first serve in, and I think those were the two areas where I focused a bit more. I tried to start with her first serve and put the return in and not to give her any free points. I think that made a difference.”

Looking back, Cirstea said at 3-all, following a double-break of each player’s serve, is where everything changed. “I could tell that was a turning point and it was my last chance if I wanted to win the match. There were a lot of emotions and I wanted to win. I knew the importance of the moment,” she said.

Cirstea, who has now won nine of her last 10 clay-court matches, said she came to Strasbourg with no expectations after recovering from an injury and now she’s into her second final of the season following her title run last month on clay in Istanbul. “We came to Strasbourg not knowing exactly where my [playing] level would be because I hadn’t practiced tennis for two weeks.

“I came here trying to get some matches so I can go to Roland Garros with a good feeling and to see where I stand. I didn’t expect to be in the final and to find my rhythm so quickly, to be honest.”

Krejcikova searching for first WTA singles title

Meanwhile, the fifth-seeded Krejcikova came into her semifinal against Niemeier, a native of Dortmund, Germany, as the highest seed remaining in the draw. She’s also in search of winning her first WTA singles title after being a highly-decorated doubles champion.

“I see that I’m improving every shot, my physical, my mental, everything,” Krejcikova said Thursday after her quarterfinal win against No. 3 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova. “I’m just happy that I can actually show it on court and play this high level and play all the top players. It’s something that I really like to do, so I’m happy that I’m here.”

Niemeier won the opening set after breaking Krejcikova a couple of times, including in the 11th game, then consolidating the break in her next service game. However, Krejcikova’s experience rewarded her during the remainder of the two hour and 14-minute match.

In the second set, Krejcikova built a 5-1 advantage after breaking Niemeier in three consecutive service games. At 5-3, she served out the set and sealed it with one of her 23 winners. Then, at 3-all, Krejcikova broke Niemeier after the German netted a forehand return that ended a four-shot rally. Finally, Krejcikova closed out the victory with a love hold to move into Saturday’s title match.

After her victory on Friday, Tennis TourTalk asked the Czech star, who outpointed Niemeier 97-93, what it would mean for her to finally win her first WTA singles title – especially after reaching the Dubai final earlier this season. Krejcikova said: “For me, it would be like a dream come true. I always wanted to go and play the highest tournaments, to win the tournaments and everything. But I still have one more step to go.

“Tomorrow, it’s going to be really tough, because Sorana is in the finals and she’s playing great tennis. So, let’s see. She’s a big fighter, same as me, so I think it’s going to be a good match and the better one will win.”

Around the Tennis Club de Strasbourg

No. 1 doubles seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk from the United States advanced to the title match with a 6-4, 6-4 victory against Vivian Heisen of Germany and Nicole Melichar from the United States. Guarachi and Krawczyk converted five of 10 break points and outpointed their opponents 65-56. In Saturday’s final, Guarachi and Krawczyk will face unseeded Yang Zhaoxuan of China and Makoto Ninomiya from Japan.

Saturday’s Internationaux de Strasbourg order of play