French Open 2021: Unseeded Barbora Krejcikova wins first-ever Grand Slam title

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The French Open women's singles final between relatively unknown first-timers Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia proved to be a battle of wills. After two opposite sets — one dominated by Krejcikova and the other dominated by Pavlyuchenkova — and an unexpected injury, Krejcikova held on to win her first-ever Grand Slam title, defeating Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.

Both women had worked hard to get to the main stage at Roland-Garros. Krejcikova, known mainly as a doubles specialist, failed to qualify in 15 of her first 16 majors as a singles player. Pavlyuchenkova played 52 main draws before making her first final, an all-time record. 

Both had something to prove, but from the start both competitors were wound tight and full of nerves. Pavlyuchenkova started out with a first-game break after Krejcikova double faulted, but the set turned dramatically from there. Krejcikova, who is 20-1 this year in first-set wins, broke off a masterful streak of six straight games to win the set. 

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Krejcikova was on a roll, but that roll stopped immediately in the second set. Pavlyuchenkova was able to get a vital hold, then broke Krejcikova again. She won a third straight game before Krejcikova was able to fight back and win a game, but Pavlyuchenkova was back on mission immediately and took the next two games. 

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Injury causes lengthy pause in play

Just two points away from winning the second set, Pavlyuchenkova appeared to tweak her knee, which had a bandage on it. She immediately started moving less, which allowed Krejcikova to come back and make it 5-2. Pavlyuchenkova was attended to by trainers after that game and indicated she was having issues with her left inner thigh. She received a massage and pain medication (plus a snack of Haribo gummy bears) during a lengthy break. 

She had a full wrap around her left thigh when play resumed, and Krejcikova was eager to challenge her range of movement. But that wasn't enough to stop Pavlyuchenkova from coming back and taking the set. 

With the score even at a set apiece, the game came down to the final set. But before that got going, Krejcikova took a lengthy break herself back in the locker room. It appeared to be mostly gamesmanship, since Krejcikova wasn't injured but had to wait on the court while Pavlyuchenkova received treatment. 

Neither the break nor the injury seemed to throw Pavlyuchenkova off her game. She held in the first game of the third set, but Krejcikova was ready to meet her, quickly going up 2-1. 

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They tied at 3-3, and then Krejcikova started moving Pavlyuchenkova all around the court. Even though Pavlyuchenkova was playing well, it started to look like it was too much for her. Krejcikova took the next two games, and despite a valiant hold from Pavlyuchenkova, was able to get it done. 

Krejcikova grateful to late mentor Jana Novotna

Krejcikova didn't react with Rafael Nadal-esque emotion once the she hit the final shot, but she was in tears on the court after the match. She thanked her family, her team and the women who came before her like Martina Navratilova, who watched her match from the seats. Navratilova, a two-time French Open champion, was able to jump on stage and hand over the trophy.

Krejcikova also thanked another woman who came before her, Jana Novotna, who served as her mentor and coach for years before her death from cancer in 2017. Novotna was the Wimbledon singles champ in 1998, but was mostly a doubles specialist who won 16 Grand Slam titles in women's and mixed doubles. 

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Krejcikova has been open with the media about missing Novotna, and said that she'd been having a really "hard time" without her. Krejcikova told the crowd she felt that Novotna had been watching over her during the tournament, and that she was taking the advice Novotna had given her with some of her last words: enjoy your career, and try to win a Grand Slam. 

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