Barbora Krejcikova inspired by Jana Novotna in fightback to beat Rybakina | Wimbledon 2024

For the first 10 days of this year’s tournament, it felt as if the name of Elena Rybakina would be engraved on the women’s singles trophy for the second time in three years. The Kazakhstani player had rolled into the semis for the loss of just one set and looked for all the world as if she would add the title to the one she claimed so brilliantly in 2022.

Barbora Krejcikova had other ideas. French Open champion in 2021, the Czech has struggled with injuries and illness in the past 12 months but on Thursday the 28-year-old found a way to negate the power of Rybakina as she won 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the Wimbledon singles final for the first time.

“It’s unbelievable,” an elated Krejcikova said. “It’s a lot of joy, a lot of emotions, a lot of relief. I’m super proud about my game and my fighting spirit today. I was down 0-4 and I was happy I won a first game. I was just trying to fight for every single ball. I felt somewhere in the second set I was getting my momentum and when I broke her [for 4-2 in the second set] I started to be in the zone and I didn’t want to leave the zone.”

Krejcikova is the seventh Czech woman to reach the final in the Open era, following Martina Navratilova, Hana Mandlikova, Jana Novotna, Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova and last year’s champion, Marketa Vondrousova. Victory over Paolini on Saturday would make her the sixth Czech champion, and would be particularly poignant for Krejcikova who was coached by the late Novotna, the 1998 winner, between 2014 and 2017, the year she died of cancer.

“Couple of years ago I was working with Jana Novotna, she won it here in 1998. At that point she was telling me a lot of stories about her journeys here and how she was trying to win Wimbledon. I was so far [away] when we had this talk and now I’m here and wow, I’m in the final,” said Krejcikova, pausing to gather herself. “I have so many beautiful memories and when I step on the court here I’m just fighting for every single ball because I’m sure that’s what she would want me to do. I miss her so much.”

Elena Rybakina (right) shakes hands with Barbora Krejcikova after her chance of winning a second Wimbledon singles title was ended by the Czech. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA

After the excitement of the first match, when Italy’s Jasmine Paolini edged out Donna Vekic in the longest women’s semi-final in Wimbledon history, Centre Court was half empty at the start. It didn’t seem to bother the No 4 seed Rybakina, who raced to a 4-0 lead with some typically brilliant serving and big hitting.

Krejcikova got herself on the board when she broke in the fifth game and slowly she began to make a match of it. A brilliant doubles player – Krejcikova has won seven grand slam doubles titles including two here – the Czech blocked returns, sliced forehands, anything she could to try to get Rybakina out of her comfort zone. It was too late to affect the outcome of the first set, though, as the Kazakh moved ahead, but it planted a seed.

At 2-2, 30-40 in the second set, Rybakina had the chance to break and take a stranglehold on the match, but it’s amazing how a head-to-head record can play games with the mind of even the best players. Krejcikova had won both their previous meetings and even if the most recent was two years ago, its impact should not be underestimated. Krejcikova saved herself with an ace, held serve and the match turned.

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Suddenly, Krejcikova was in the contest and she broke for 4-2, a lead she maintained to level the match, even if she almost stumbled at 5-3, 40-0, double faulting twice on set point before finally taking it on her third opportunity.

Rybakina had been utterly dominant on serve in her five previous rounds, averaging 75% of points won on first serve, four times in the 80s. Against Krejcikova, she was down at 67%, outfoxed by the Czech’s guile, put out of her usual rhythm by her ability to take the ball early, her doubles prowess coming in handy.

Neither woman had a break point in the third set until 3-3, when the pressure finally told on Rybakina, three forehand errors handing Krejcikova the advantage. Rybakina held to at least ask Krejcikova to serve out but she was up to the task, finishing it off when Rybakina sent a backhand return long, the Czech throwing her arms above her head in joy.

A new Wimbledon champion is guaranteed after Paolini’s win over Vekic and Krejcikova expects nothing other than a huge battle. “I know that she is a huge fighter, she showed it today and same from me,” Krejcikova said. “I think we’re playing great tennis and hopefully we are going to show it again on Saturday.”

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