It took Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova an Open Era record 52 attempts before finally making her first major final on Saturday. Her run to the Roland Garros championship match was a long time coming, but she still had a sense of humor about it after her 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 loss to Barbora Krejcikova.
Speaking of her friends in her player's box who flew all the way from Russia on short notice for the final, Pavlyuchenkova, 29, joked, "Maybe because they thought this would be my only final; that's why they decided to come. They probably said 'now or never.'"
"I want to believe that the best is yet to come, so I think that's how I should approach the whole situation," Pavlyuchenkova told reporters after the match. "Watching my friends at the start [of the trophy ceremony], of course I was close to crying. It's always sad to lose. But then when I looked at my friends, I think there is much more important stuff in life than sometimes even this trophy.
"I feel loved. I think that's the best thing you can have is friends and a life outside tennis, as well, which actually even meant more than the trophy today."
Asked in her press conference whether she truly believed this might have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win her first major, Pavlyuchenkova put on a more serious tone.
"Of course I believe in myself a little bit more maybe, yes," Pavlyuchenkova said. "But I always knew, I think, [that] I could do it. I'll keep on going. Hopefully, next time if I have a chance to be in the final I'll handle it better and I'll be more fresh and I'll play better. That's the goal right now.
"I believe in my game, I believe in me. I know I'm a fighter. What else do you need basically?"
Pavlyuchenkova did well to bounce back from losing the opening set 6-1 in a quick 32 minutes. She amped up her aggression from the baseline and on her serve to take the second set 6-2. But any close observer would have known she has been managing a left injury since her Round of 16 match against No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka. Pavlyuchenkova did not want to discuss the injury during the tournament, but needed a medical timeout late in the second set after feeling her hamstring give way after a serve.
"The Sabalenka match, I was actually in really bad shape physically," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I don't know how I even won that match because I also had a medical treatment there, I had to wrap my leg.
"I've struggled with my knees for a while, with my left knee. That caused a lot of pain in my knee after because I compensate a lot in my body. Actually in the third set during the Sabalenka match, I said to myself, 'If I win this match, I'm going to cry.' It's such a shame, I'm playing so good, but my body says this to me: I don't want to continue."
Pavlyuchenkova was able to come back from an early break in the third set, but struggling to push off behind her serve gave Krejcikova more looks in her return games. Despite the loss, Pavlyuchenkova says she left it all out on the court over the fortnight. On Monday, she will return to the Top 20 for the first time since 2018 at No.19.
"I still have to be grateful for these two amazing weeks," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I've said to my brother that's the case. A couple weeks ago just before Madrid, we sat at one cafe, we were having coffee. He told me, 'I got you. I really believe in you.' I think you can do well this year.
"I said, 'Yeah, I also believe in me.' But I feel like I need more time. I'm not fit enough yet. Then Madrid semifinal, and now French Open final, which honestly it's unexpected to me. I think it's two positive weeks."
Pavlychenkova's mature perspective has been aided along by her recent decision to work with a sports psychologist, which began right a few weeks before Madrid, where she made her first WTA 1000 semifinal in over a decade.
"I seriously felt a little at some times desperate," Pavlyuchenkova said. "You work hard, you do everything, but something it's off all the time. Then I just said to myself, 'You know what, I want to try everything. I want to improve my mentality. I want to improve my physical condition, my game, everything.'
"When you do everything 100%, then you have no regrets. Also today I've done everything I could. She was better in the end. She was maybe more fitter, more whatever in the end. Doesn't matter. I have no questions to myself right now."