Paris, June 11: Barbora Krejcikova felt the guiding hand of Jana Novotna influence her stunning 7-5 4-6 9-7 Roland Garros victory over Maria Sakkari as the former doubles expert reached a first singles grand slam final.
Five times a slam winner in doubles, in which she is a former world number one, Krejcikova has diverted a large part of her focus to singles.
Novotna – the former Wimbledon champion and two-time French Open semi-finalist – helped to coach and mentor Krejcikova in the early stages of her professional career.
The death of Novotna from cancer in 2017 hit Krejcikova and many others in tennis hard, yet the rookie finalist continues to feel her fellow Czech is watching out for her.
"When I'm on court, I only think about tennis. I don't really think about anything else. So I was just thinking about tennis," Krejcikova said.
"I was just thinking about next ball, thinking where she's going to serve, where I should serve, what shot should I play, where should I place the ball.
"I don't really think about the things from outside. It's something actually she taught me. I just try to do that.
"Like every time before the match or after the match I just feel like she's there, she's looking after me."
Sakkari had a match point when 5-3 ahead in the third set against Krejcikova but the 17th seed went on to lose in Thursday's chaotic battle.
2005 - @BKrejcikova could become the first player to win the Women’s singles @rolandgarros after having saved a match point during the Tournament since Justine Henin in 2005 (v Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Fourth Round). Mindset.— OptaAce (@OptaAce) June 10, 2021
When that big chance came her way, the Greek player floated a short backhand that Krejcikova smashed away with a nerveless drive volley.
"I have to be deadly honest: I got stressed," Sakkari said. "I was starting thinking that I'm a point away from being in the final. I guess it's a rookie mistake."
There was a reprieve late in the decider for Sakkari when a shot of hers landed out and was signalled as being out, but the chair umpire overruled, incorrectly. That was on a match point for Krejcikova, who had to rein back her excitement and play another point.
"At that moment I was just like, 'Well, it's out, but what can you do?'," Krejcikova said.
That is an absolutely brutal error from the umpire— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) June 10, 2021
On Saturday, Krejcikova faces the biggest match of her life, against fellow pre-tournament long shot, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The world number 32 and 33 will meet in the biggest women's match of the clay-court season, an outcome nobody expected.
Krejcikova won her first career singles title in the lead-up to this fortnight, triumphing impressively in Strasbourg.
She has a French Open title already in her back pocket, having landed the women's doubles with Katerina Siniakova in 2018.
There could yet be a twin title success for Krejcikova this weekend, as the 25-year-old and Siniakova have a doubles semi-final ahead of them on Friday.
"I always wanted to play tournaments like this, big tournaments, big opponents, last rounds," Krejcikova said, speaking of her new-found singles prowess.
"It was just taking so long. It just took me some time, but I think right now it's actually the right moment. Especially mentally, I think I'm just there.
"I really matured. I just really appreciate things a lot, especially after what I've gone through, also with this pandemic and everything."