The ball has been suspended high in the sky for what felt like an eternity, giving Barbora Krejcikova all the time in the world to think about how bad things could end. Yet despite making 29 unforced errors on the backhand Thursday afternoon, when she was one step away from losing the biggest singles game of her career at 3-5, 30-40 in the third set, she has refused. Krejcikova jumped forward and swept a nerfless backhand volley to save match point with an angled winner.
Forty-five minutes later, after three hours and 17 minutes of nerves, doubt and fierce fighting, non-seed Krejcikova finally recovered to defeat 17th seed Maria Sakkari, 7-5, 4-6 , 9-7 to reach a grand slam singles final for the first time. “I’ve always wanted to play a game like this,” Krejcikova said.
“Every time when I was younger [and] I was playing in the juniors, I always wanted to play a game like this. Such a tough game, where we both had our chances, we both played so well. Only one can win.
“Even if I lost today, I would just be very proud of myself because I was just fighting. I think that’s the most important thing, just to fight. Every time – here but also in normal life. Fighting is the most important thing.
In the final, she will face 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who once again managed the moment with calm and maturity, beating Slovenian Tamara Zidansek 7-5, 6-3.
In her 52nd major, the 29-year-old became the first woman to compete in more than 50 slam tournaments before making her first final.
From the very first match of the match of the day, what unfolded was pure tennis psychodrama.
Sakkari and Krejcikova entered their first major semi-final with a first final on the line; each of them so desperate to seize the moment.
But desperation can so often be a hindrance in professional tennis and they were first seized by the opportunity through two volatile and tight sets that saw the advances go up and down quickly until they came to an end. both set up in a final shootout.
Sakkari had wanted for a third set by the sheer force of her desire. She barked at points won and lost, she relentlessly targeted the Czech’s failing backhand and her footwork was furious even when her shots were faulty. No Greek woman has ever reached the singles final of a slam.
However, even though she led by a break for most of the third set, Sakkari never looked comfortable. She had built her lead mainly on Krejcikova’s backhand mistakes; when the czech’s level rose and they finally stopped, she got stuck: 5-3 quickly became 5-6.
As defeat drew closer for the two, they remarkably began to play their best tennis of the game with everything on the line.
After Krejcikova saved Sakkari’s match point, Sakkari then made her last fight, crushing forehands as she saves three match points herself.
Finally, it was Sakkari who blinked first. She double faulted at 7-8, 30-30. On the Czech’s fourth match point, Sakkari’s forehand was canceled and Krejcikova celebrated her victory.
It was rejected, however, even though Krejcikova defended her case to no avail. Sakkari then coldly pierced a winner from the cross backhand to derail the match point. It could have been the moment the game changed, but Krejcikova had the wherewithal to get back to the baseline, generate another opportunity and finally seize it.
Afterwards, Krejcikova, a former No.1 doubles who finally realized her talent in her fifth career Grand Slam main draw in singles, thanked her team.
Then she looked at the sky and reserved some gratitude for her former mentor and coach, the late Jana Novotna: “She really takes care of me and I really miss her. I really want to thank her for being the reason I am here too. It’s really important for me to say it out loud.
Later, Sakkari was honest and open through her grief and tried to leave on a positive note: “I have to be deadly honest,” she said. “I was stressed out, starting to think I’m at a point of being in the final. I guess this is a rookie mistake.
“The good thing is if I give myself a chance to be in this position again, then I know I don’t have to do it again. “