French Open 2021

Rainbow's end for unlikely finalists

Pavlyuchenkova, No. 32, and Krejcikova, No. 33, have benefited from the top seeds' fall

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (left) is in her first Grand Slam final on her 52nd attempt. Barbora Krejcikova (right) is known as a doubles specialist but is now on an 11-match winning streak as a singles players.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (left) is in her first Grand Slam final on her 52nd attempt. Barbora Krejcikova (right) is known as a doubles specialist but is now on an 11-match winning streak as a singles players. PHOTOS: REUTERS, EPA-EFE

PARIS • Two of the most unlikely Grand Slam finalists of the modern era, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova, meet in today's French Open women's singles title match in what has been a shock-heavy tournament.

World No. 32 Pavlyuchenkova, 29, has reached this stage for the first time at the 52nd attempt, 10 years after making a first Slam quarter-final in Paris.

Krejcikova, one place lower in the rankings, has long been known as a doubles specialist and this will be just her fifth appearance in a main-draw singles at the Majors, having never previously got beyond the last 16.

However, both women have capitalised on a draw where the top seeds, including Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Serena Williams and last year's champion Iga Swiatek, fell and just kept falling.

"The 14-year-old me would tell me, 'What took you so long?'," said Pavlyuchenkova, who played her first Slam event in 2007. "It's been a long road. I had my own long special road. Everybody has different ways. I'm happy I'm in the final."

She is bidding to become the fourth Russian champion at Roland Garros after Anastasia Myskina (2004), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009) and Maria Sharapova (2012 and 2014).

When she won the Australian Open junior title in 2006, aged 14, it was assumed that she would be go on to be a WTA heavyweight.

But, while often thought of as possessing the weapons to win a Slam - she has 37 career wins over top 10 players and 12 WTA titles - Pavlyuchenkova was often written off as "too nice" to succeed when it mattered most.

She decided to switch things up and adopt a greater killer instinct this season. That attitude change has served her well in Paris, where she defeated third seed Aryna Sabalenka, Victoria Azarenka as well as doubles partner Elena Rybakina, all in three sets.

Her opponent has also travelled the road less taken. Krejcikova is bidding to become just the second Czech women's champion, 40 years after Hana Mandlikova won.

The 25-year-old is already a Slam champion, having captured the women's doubles with Katerina Siniakova at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2018.

Her late blossoming as a singles player - she is on an 11-match win streak - means that she has yet to play in the main draw at both the All England Club and US Open.

Indeed, she won eight doubles titles before lifting a maiden singles trophy on clay in Strasbourg on the eve of the French Open.

She should break the top 20 with victory today, having ended last year ranked 65th, and if she makes history, she intends to cast a glance to the heavens and say a quiet thank you to late compatriot Jana Novotna. The former Wimbledon champion, who died of cancer at the age of 49 in 2017, mentored Krejcikova early on her career.

"Every time before a match or after a match, I just feel like she's there, she's looking after me."

In the first men's semi-finals, Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3. He will face either world No. 1 Novak Djokovic or 13-time champion Rafael Nadal in tomorrow's final.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2021, with the headline 'Rainbow's end for unlikely finalists'. Subscribe