Roland Garros Women’s Semifinal Day Will Long Be Remembered

Barbora Krejcikova (photo: @rolandgarros/Twitter)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 11, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Looking back, Thursday’s women’s semifinals day at Roland-Garros will long be remembered for a number of positive reasons. Among them, there was the right amount of drama, entertainment and excitement. When it ended, it produced a pair of first-time Grand Slam finalists in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova.

First, the afternoon began with Russia’s Pavlyuchenkova reaching her first Grand Slam final in her 52nd appearance in a major at this year’s French Open. She defeated a worthy opponent, Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia, who had never gone this far in a big tournament, 7-5, 6-3, in one hour and 34 minutes. Pavlyuchenkkova became the first Russian woman to reach a major singles final since Maria Sharapova at the 2015 Australian Open.

”Definitely trying to soak this in and enjoy as much as possible this very special moment for me,” Pavlyuchenkova said during her post-match gathering with international media. “It’s been a long road. I had my own long, special road. Everybody has different way. I’m just happy I’m in the final.”

Then, there was the second half of the semifinals doubleheader, in which the Czech Republic’s Krejcikova won an absolute classic of a match against Maria Sakkari of Greece, 7-5, 4-6, 9-7. It was truly a match that both deserved to win and neither deserved to lose. In winning, Krejcikova became the first Czech woman in 40 years to reach the final in Paris.

“I actually think we both deserved to win because we played [a] really, really great match,” Krejcikova said during her post-match press conference. After all, she saved one match point and it took her five of her own match points to pull out the semifinal victory. “But only one can win. I’m really happy that it’s me, that I’m going to have another chance to play another match.”

While Pavlyuchenkova, at age 29, has been a feel-good story and one who continues to re-write and re-tell her own story, the same can be said for the 25-year-old Krejcikova, long regarded as an outstanding doubles player – twice a Grand Slam champion with longtime doubles partner and fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova – but who in the past year has discovered that she’s a pretty fine singles player, too. (Meanwhile, Krejcikova and Siniakova will play in the women’s doubles semifinals on Friday.)

During this Parisian fortnight, as illustrated in her three-hour and 18-minute triumph over Sakkari, Krejcikova’s composure – her mental resilience and fortitude – and her ability to play through tough situations while still having fun have been rewarding not only for her but also for tennis fans. Krejcikova’s respect for the game – and appreciation for the moment – speaks volumes about her.

“To be honest, when I’m on court, I only think about tennis,” Krejcikova said. “I don’t think about anything else. So, I was just thinking about tennis. I was think about [the] next ball, thinking where [Maria’s] going to serve, where I should serve, what shot should I play? Where should I place the ball?”

After the Czech star finished off Sakkari with one final 18-shot rally that was capped with a backhand winner up the line, Krejcikova first raised her arms in the air. Then, she blew a kiss to sky in honor of her late coach and mentor, Jana Novatna. It was a feeling of “I can’t believe it.” Truly, there was some great sportsmanship shown when she and Sakkari met at the net to shake hands and congratulate one another.

“I always wanted to play a match like this,” Krejcikova told Marion Bartoli during her on-court interview soon afterward. “Every time, when I was younger and playing juniors, I always wanted to play a match like this. It was such a challenging match, when we both our chances – we had both played so well – and only one can win. Even if I had lost today, I would have been very proud of myself. I was just fighting and I think the most important thing is to fight – to fight every time – not only here but also in life. Fighting is the most important thing.”

Krejcikova drew thunderous applause from the 5,000 or so spectators who remained as the sun set over Court Philippe-Chatrier. But she saved the best for the second half of her interview. That’s because Krejcikova gave an emotional tribute to Novatna, and she also thanked a couple of other Czech greats, who were there to throw their support her way: Hall of Famers Jan Kodes, who won Roland Garros men’s titles in 1970 and ‘71, and Martina Navratilova, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia before defecting to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen. Now a tennis commentator for Tennis Channel, Navratilova won two Roland Garros women’s singles titles, in 1982 and ‘84, as well as six Roland Garros doubles titles between 1982 and ‘88.

In praising Novatna, Krejcikova with tears beginning to well up in her eyes – and her voice becoming a bit shaky – said in a heartfelt tone: “Jana is upstairs, really looking after me. I really miss her and want to thank her. Because of her, I am here right now. It’s really important to me to say this out loud.”

Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic: Part 58

Rafael Nadal is two victories away from winning his 14th Roland Garros men’s singles title, an unfathomable number. If he’s successful in garnering No. 14 on Sunday afternoon, it would also mean that he would break Roger Federer’s men’s Grand Slam record of 20 majors, which he co-shares with the Swiss superstar and future Hall of Famer.

First, the third seed Nadal must beat current World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic in a a rematch of last year’s French Open final. Only this time, it’s a semifinal matchup. It’s the 58th renewal of the ATP Tour’s most prolific rivalry – Nadal and Djokovic – and the Serbian leads the Spaniard by the slimmest of 29-28 margins.

“I’m confident,” Djokovic said after he beat No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini on Wednesday night. “I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

After Nadal beat No. 10 seed Diego Schwartzman in his quarterfinal match on Wednesday afternoon, in which he was pushed to four sets, he said in looking ahead to the possibility of facing Djokovic: “It’s a semifinal. It’s not a final. That’s a big difference. Even the winner of that match needs to keep going and [there] remains a lot of work to do to try to achieve the final goal here.”

If Nadal is successful in taming the vocal Djokovic, he would face the winner of Friday’s first semifinal between No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in the youngest Grand Slam semifinal matchup in over a decade. Each of the former #NextGenATP stars – Tsitsipas is 22, Zverev 24 – are an impressive 9-1 in their last 10 clay-four matches and Tsitsipas leads their career head-to-head 5-2. Neither have reached a final at Roland Garros or won a Grand Slam title. Zverev is 1-1 in major semifinals while Tsitsipas is 0-3.

Tsitsipas comes in leading the ATP Tour in victories this season with 38, including a tour-leading 21 on clay courts.

“I’m playing good. That will show by itself,” Tsitsipas said after beating Daniil Medvedev in the quarterfinal round on Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s a player out there [in the draw] that thinks they can’t win the tournament. I’m pretty sure they all know they can play well. 

“Of course, I’m playing [well], and I think if I keep repeating the process, keep repeating the everyday hustle that I put [in], for sure there’s going to be a reward. And why not?”

Thursday’s Roland-Garros results

Friday’s Roland-Garros order of play

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

When Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was asked by a reporter if she could recall when you might have first imagined herself winning a Grand Slam trophy, she responded: “I think as tennis players, that’s the only goal I think we have in the head. That’s why we play tennis. That’s for us the biggest achievement you can get. That’s what you play for, of course. 

“I think about it all the time. Like, I’ve been thinking about it since I was a junior, since I was a little kid, since I started playing tennis. That’s what you play for. That’s what you want. I’s been there in my head forever.”