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First-time finalists Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova prepare for battle - Getty Images

First-time finalists Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova prepare for battle – Getty Images

12:16 PM

Route to the final

It has not been a case of luck of the draw for either of today’s surprise finalists with both women knocking out some big-names and big-occasion players.

Barbora Krejcikova, in only her third main draw appearance at Roland Garros, has seen off sixth seed Elina Svitolina, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens and the superbly talented Coco Gauff along the way. She also recovered from match-point down in the semi-final against Maria Sakkari to win through 9-7 in the decider after three hours and 18 minutes.

Krejcikova’s progress

1r: d. K. PLISKOVA (#89 ranking) 5-7 6-4 6-2 (2h 10m)

2r: d. E. ALEXANDROVA (#34) 6-2 6-3 (1h 9m)

3r: d. E. SVITOLINA (#6) 6-3 6-2 (1h 39m)

4r: d. S. STEPHENS (#59) 6-2 6-0 (1h 10m)

QF: d. C. GAUFF (#25) 7-6 6-3 (2h 14m)

SF: d. M. SAKKARI (#18) 7-5 4-6 9-7 (3h 18m)

Total time on court: 11h 40m

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, meanwhile, has seen off fourth-seed Aryna Sabalenka, two-time grand slam champion Victoria Azarenka and outlasted her doubles opponent Elena Rybakina 9-7 in the third to reach the semis. Despite playing one more set than today’s rival, the Russian has spent 50 minutes less time on court this fortnight.

Pavlyuchenkova’s route

1r: d. C. MCHALE (#95) 6-4 6-0 (1h 20m)

2r: d. A. TOMLJANOVIC (#76) 6-2 6-3 (1h 30m)

3r: d. A. SABALENKA (#4) 6-4 2-6 6-0 (1h 41m)

4r: d. V. AZARENKA (#16) 5-7 6-3 6-2 (2h 11m)

QF: d. E. RYBAKINA (#22) 6-7 6-2 9-7 (2h 33m)

SF: d. T. ZIDANSEK (#85) 7-5 6-3 (1h 35m)

Total time on court: 10h 50m

11:57 AM

Final preview

By Simon Briggs

Today’s trophy match pits Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova against Barbora Krejcikova. Which raises at least two questions. First: which of these names represents the bigger surprise? Second: is this the freakiest final in grand-slam history?

The respective answers are “Krejcikova” and “yes”. At 29, Pavlyuchenkova clearly owns the greater pedigree, having been a junior world No 1 and reached six previous major quarter-finals.

Even so, when a player has played 51 of these events without attending a presentation ceremony, you would have needed divine inspiration to pick her out from the draw.

Freaky or not, tennis’s camp followers are celebrating Pavlyuchenkova’s long-awaited breakthrough. She has long been one of the most open and engaging players on the tour, with a sharp sense of self-deprecating humour.

On Thursday, she was asked what her 14-year-old self would have said about this late-career blossoming. Pavlyuchenkova quirked her lips in her distinctive half-smile and replied: “She would tell me, ‘What took you so long?’ ”

Like many of the top women, Pavlyuchenkova has had her issues with mental health. Around 2018, she even considered retiring from the game, even though she was only 27.

“I had this rough moment where I had burnout or slight depression,” she told the “No Challenges Remaining” podcast last week. “I was not enjoying anything in life anymore. I was just lost.

“I didn’t want to be No 20 or 30 all my life. I felt like I wanted to be better, but I couldn’t do anything at that point, and I had zero motivation. It was the worst feeling ever: you wake up and you don’t want to do anything. I found myself surrounded by a lot of people, coaches and friends, but I still felt lonely.”

Such experiences are not unusual in this relentless sport. Pavlyuchenkova was echoing the sentiments of a recent Nick Kyrgios interview when she explained: “You don’t know who is there for you because they like you or because you won matches. Then you just become a bit blind. You can lose yourself.”

To deal with her growing alienation, Pavlyuchenkova undertook some counselling, and realised that she needed to draw satisfaction from some other part of her life – not just the trophies that she was piling up. She has 12 tour titles, of which four arrived shortly before this period. “It’s a cliche to say that I had to find myself but I did that,” she concluded, in an interview that displayed her resilience and emotional honesty.

If Pavlyuchenkova’s success in Paris stems from a shift in attitude, the same could be said of Krejcikova, the Czech who was coached by the late Jana Novotna in her teenage years.

Until recently, Krejcikova had been known exclusively as a doubles player – a former world No 1, no less, who lifted back-to-back majors in the summer of 2018 alongside her partner and compatriot Katerina Siniakova. But her singles form was underwhelming. By the start of 2020, she had attempted to play 16 grand slams, and made it through qualifying only once. Even then, she lost to another compatriot – Karolina Pliskova – in the first round.

As a sole trader, Krejcikova finally earned her first WTA title at the end of May, via the Strasbourg event that finished on the eve of Roland-Garros.

A fortnight later, she finds herself on a winning streak of 11 singles matches, while she and Siniakova are also due to play the doubles final tomorrow.

Success on both fronts would match a record that only Mary Pierce, all-conquering here in 2000, has achieved in the Open era.

“I never really wanted to be a doubles specialist,” said Krejcikova earlier in the week. “Everybody, they just put a label on me.”

She also suggested that her mental game had benefited from last year’s unprecedented tour suspension, and a broader world view promoted by Covid-19.

“I’m like, ‘Well, I go and I play tennis and I lose, but there are actually people that are losing their lives’,” she explained. “I just felt more like, ‘Well, just relax because you are healthy. Just appreciate this and just enjoy the game. You can do something what maybe other people would like to do as well but they cannot’.”

So while the names of these two bolters may be unfamiliar to many floating sports fans, their stories are both equally compelling. And whoever lifts that trophy this afternoon, she can say that her triumph stemmed from a dose of hard-won perspective.

Stay with us for build up and game-by-game coverage of the final