French Open: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will meet Barbora Krejcikova in Saturday's women's singles final
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova becomes first Russian woman to reach a major singles final since Maria Sharapova at the 2015 Australian Open; Barbora Krejcikova is the first Czech woman in 40 years to reach the final in Paris; both women will be making their maiden appearance in a major final
Last Updated: 10/06/21 9:34pm
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova both made it through to their maiden Grand Slam final on a dramatic day of action at the French Open.
Pavlyuchenkova reached her maiden Slam final with a straight-sets victory over Tamara Zidansek, while Krejcikova became the first Czech woman in 40 years to reach the final in Paris as she edged out Maria Sakkari in a nail-biting, see-saw encounter.
Russian Pavlyuchenkova was the world junior No 1 aged just 14 and now, 15 years later at the age of 29, she will play for a first major title on the Parisian clay.
Pavlyuchenkova had fallen six times in Slam quarter-finals over the last 10 years before beating Elena Rybakina on Tuesday but she needed just one attempt at a semi-final, seeing off Slovenian Tamara Zidansek 7-5 6-3.
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Zidansek, ranked 85, was the outsider of a hugely-unexpected final four, but the 23-year-old was eventually overpowered by the Russian, who began to make her big strikes count as she moved into a 5-3 lead.
She was unable to serve out the set, Zidansek pulling off an outrageous backhand overhead winner to help her break, but a double fault from the Slovenian then handed it to her opponent.
Pavlyuchenkova was always ahead in the second set and kept it together with the prize in sight, clinching victory on her first match point when Zidansek drilled a backhand wide.
🇷🇺🇷🇺🇷🇺— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) June 10, 2021
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (@NastiaPav) is the 1st Russian woman to advance to a Slam final since 2015 (Sharapova, AO).
She is the 1st woman to play more than 50 majors before reaching her first major final.
Defeats Tamara Zidansek 75 63.#RG21 pic.twitter.com/XZoqrJV7Nd
There was no big celebration from the 29-year-old, who simply took a deep breath before allowing herself a satisfied smile as she tried to take in her achievement.
"I am so tired and so happy, it is very emotional," Pavlyuchenkova said on a sunlit Court Philippe Chatrier.
"It was difficult, I tried to fight very hard and to work on the tactical side. It is important to stay focused and in the right zone for the final on Saturday."
Maria Sharapova, the last Russian to win the women's singles title at Roland Garros, was quick to tweet her admiration for her compatriot's victory.
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In the final she will face Krejcikova, with a first-time Grand Slam champion guaranteed.
The unseeded Czech saved a match point in a marathon 7-5 4-6 9-7 victory over Greek 17th seed Sakkari.
"I always wanted to play a match like this," Krejcikova said. "Such a challenging match where we both had our chances. We've both been playing so well and only one can win. Even if I lost today I would have been very proud of myself because I was fighting and I think that's the most important thing."
The tension of the occasion was evident in the performance of both players and Sakkari was unable to capitalise on a strong start as Krejcikova fought back to claim the opening set.
Sakkari forged into a 4-0 lead in the second and managed to overcome her nerves to take it, with Krejcikova heading off court for a lengthy bathroom break.
The Greek did not allow that to distract her and opened up a 5-3 lead in the decider, with Krejcikova putting away a swing volley to fend off a match point.
Barbora Krejcikova’s Road to the #RG21 Final:— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) June 10, 2021
d. Kr.Pliskova 57 64 62
d.  Alexandrova 62 63
d.  Svitolina 63 62
d. Stephens 62 60
d.  Gauff 76 63
d.  Sakkari 75 46 97 (saved MP)
Extends her winning streak to 11 matches, has won 13 of her last 14 matches. pic.twitter.com/mabygeb89A
Serving for the match, Sakkari could not quell the nerves, though, and back came Krejcikova. The Czech then created three match points at 7-6 but Sakkari saved them all.
Two more arrived two games later, though. On the first, Krejcikova celebrated thinking Sakkari had hit the ball out only for the umpire to decide it was in, but on the second the Czech guided a backhand down the line.
The 25-year-old must now prepare to play a women's doubles semi-final alongside her partner Katerina Siniakova against Magda Linette and Bernarda Pera on Friday.
After thanking her supporters in the stands, Krejcikova also paid tribute to the influence of the late Jana Novotna, who coached her before the former Wimbledon champion's death from cancer in 2017 aged just 49.
"Also Jana Novotna from upstairs," she said, choking back tears. "She was really looking after me. I really miss her and I really want to thank her. It's really important to me to say this out loud."
Sakkari admitted she allowed herself to see the finish line, saying: "I got stressed, starting thinking that I'm a point away from being in the final. I guess it's a rookie mistake. I think it's human emotions, but I think I'll learn from it.
"Of course I'm proud of my run here. But it hurts. Today's loss hurts a lot because I was so close."
Krejcikova will be looking to emulate fellow Czech Hana Mandlikova, who won the title at Roland Garros in 1981.