The Insider Wrap is a weekly recap of everything you need to know from the week that was. This week, WTA Insider looks back at the 2021 French Open, where Barbora Krejcikova's dual title runs capped off an exciting two weeks in the City of Lights.
Performance of the Tournament: Barbora Krejcikova
Before the 2020 French Open, Barbora Krejcikova had tallied only 13 tour-level main-draw singles wins (13-9) in her career. Since then? From the 2020 French Open through the 2021 French Open - a nine-month span - Krejcikova is 32-11. She has won more matches in 2021 than she had in all her previous seasons combined.
When we talk about a rocket rise, this is what we mean.
"My journey, I think it's inspiring because nine months ago I was actually out of Top 100," Krejcikova told WTA Insider. "I had the label that I'm a doubles player. Now, nine months later, I'm actually a singles Grand Slam champion and the world just changed."
"On court, after I finished, I'm like, 'Mom, we did it. We actually did it.'— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) June 14, 2021
"I actually won the biggest thing I can actually win in tennis. I just started to cry."
It still hasn’t sunk in for #RG21 champion Barbora Krejcikova.
Champions Corner: https://t.co/Y1PSZR5QxY pic.twitter.com/gF0A0qoPIG
Surprise of the Tournament: Tamara Zidansek
Krejcikova may have been the tournament stunner, but it's worth pointing out that she came into Roland Garros off a title run in Strasbourg and as the highest-ranked unseeded player at No.33. Based on momentum, Krejcikova had every right to be tagged as a dark horse.
But 23-year-old Tamara Zidansek's workmanlike run to her first major semifinal was revelatory. The Slovenian had yet to make the Top 50 when Roland Garros began, and she was still seeking her first main-draw win in Paris. She stormed to the semifinals by outlasting No.6 seed Bianca Andreescu in the first round in the longest match of the tournament and tallied a series of wins against some of the tour's in-form clay players - Parma semifinalist Katerina Siniakova, Istanbul champion Sorana Cirstea and Belgrade champion Paula Badosa.
If Krejcikova's win was a moment of inspiration for the WTA locker room, Zidansek's run should be, too. Asked what the difference was in Paris, Zidansek said it's not about ability or talent.
"I've learned that sometimes when I was younger, I was always looking at big players [thinking], 'Wow, they're hitting so good. Maybe I want to have a shot like that or something.'
"But I think I showed myself and I've learned that at this stage it really is, I'm going to say, 90% a mental game, just about going out there and believing in yourself, believing in your game. At the end, being able to go out there and show your best game."
One thing was sure when the Roland Garros final began Saturday: Either way, you were going to get a feel-good story about perseverance. One of the most talented players in women's tennis without a major trophy, Pavlyuchenkova, a 29-year-old Russian, was the picture of calm over the fortnight as she marched her way to her first Slam final. In doing so, she set an Open Era record for most major appearances before a maiden major appearance, with Paris being her 52nd attempt.
To build off her semifinal run in Madrid last month - her first WTA 1000 semifinal in more than a decade - to come within a few games of a Slam title was a big win in consistency for Pavlyuchenkova. Her body let her down in the end, but more than ever, Pavlyuchenkova is closing in on a winning formula.
Thanks to Maria Sakkari and men's finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, Greece came so close to what could have been an historic weekend. Sakkari's exit from the tournament will hurt - she held one match point on Krejcikova and confessed to getting tight down the stretch in the 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 semifinal loss - but Sakkari's Parisian fortnight was the breakout Slam performance she's been chasing.
Sakkari's trio of wins against Elise Mertens, Sofia Kenin, and her stunning 6-4, 6-4 victory over defending champion Iga Swiatek, helped her get over the hump at the majors, becoming the first woman from Greece to make a major semifinal.It's worth pointing out that the fighting Spartan has not lost a match in straight sets since February.
The 17-year-old American capped off her outstanding clay season by making her first major quarterfinal, where she was finally stopped by Krejcikova. Gauff's Slam performances have always involved some dramatic flair in the past, as she's entertained the crowd with her ability to battle through tough three-set matches, so it's ironic, but not surprising, that her most successful Slam would be the most straightforward.
On the heels of a Rome semifinal and Parma title, Gauff did not lose a set until she failed to convert five set points against Krejcikova. For the first time at a big tournament, it was no muss, no fuss from Gauff and she was rewarded. As she said herself, this was the most "professional" run at Slam in her young career.
"I feel like all my matches have been pretty straightforward wins, like no crazy three sets and stuff," Gauff said. "As we know, I have had a lot of those in the past. But I don't know, I just feel like this has been the most consistent tennis I have played at this level."
Few players were as impacted by the last spring's pandemic shutdown than Rybakina. She had made the final or better in four of her first five tournaments in 2020. The only player who stopped her before the championship match was No.1 Ashleigh Barty at the Australian Open. Then Covid hit, and the smooth-swinging 21-year-old had been trying to find her mojo ever since. She finally found it in Paris.
Seeded No.21, Rybakina held her nerve to defeat Serena Williams, 6-3, 7-5 to advance to her first major quarterfinal, where she was edged out by Pavlyuchenkova, 6-7, 6-2, 9-7. She'll be one to watch when the tour moves back to hardcourts this summer.
On her favorite surface, the American produced her finest tennis of the season to return to the quarterfinals of Slam for the first time since she made the French Open final in 2018. This was a tricky path for Stephens, who had to get past a spirited Carla Suárez Navarro in the first round, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, before dialing in to defeat No.9 seed Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 6-1 and Australian Open semifinalist Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-4 in the third round.
Krejcikova proved too tough in the quarterfinals, putting on a tactical masterclass to prevail 6-2, 6-0, but again, Stephens is building in the right direction. She'll be another player to keep an eye on during the summer hardcourts. Stephens is trending up, big time.
🇨🇵☺️Almost 3 weeks in Paris, a lot of challenges, fun, experience and solid performance as a result of the whole process. Thank you @matteksands, team, thank you all for the support. I'll miss clay but it's time for grass & it means learning, learning and then some more learning. pic.twitter.com/oKipbOHBLQ— Iga Świątek (@iga_swiatek) June 14, 2021
It's all about new experiences for Swiatek, and when it came to her first title defense - at a Slam, no less - the 20-year-old Pole has every right to be pleased. Playing as a tournament favorite in the first week before becoming the prohibitive favorite by the second week, Swiatek handled every curve ball well. She was challenged by Anett Kontaveit and Marta Kostyuk but fended them off to win in straight sets.
She didn't have her best against Sakkari in the quarterfinals, as the Greek smartly targeted her misfiring forehand wing for a 6-4, 6-4 win, but Swiatek reflected on the loss with great perspective and then proceeded to make her first Slam doubles final with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. It might be an unscientific metric, but there were good vibes all around Team Swiatek in what was supposed to be her most pressure-packed two weeks of the year. Credit to them all for handling it well.
The greatest lessons come from the toughest battles. I will be back stronger. 💪🏻— Paula Badosa (@paulabadosa) June 8, 2021
Loved every minute @rolandgarros. Always a dream to compete and give my best here. 🧡🧡
Thanks to my team for helping me be where I am now. Much ❤️ to my fans! ✨ See you soon! pic.twitter.com/7Nd5oNRkSh
The Spaniard finally got her moment. It was a breakout tournament for Badosa, who came through one of the best matches of the tournament against Ana Bogdan in the third round, prevailing 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, and saving match points. Primed for a letdown in the next match, she edged 2019 finalist Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, before narrowly losing to Zidansek, 8-6 in the third.
It was a pleasure to watch Badosa apply everything she and coach Javier Marti have been preaching, focusing on the work, on the task at hand, and just fighting.
The 18-year-old Ukrainian was one of two teenagers into the Round of 16, alongside Gauff, and she paved her own way in defeating former champion Garbiñe Muguruza in the first round. From there, Kostyuk took care of business, with straight-set wins over Zheng Saisai and Varvara Gracheva to make her first Slam Round of 16. She then went on to give Swiatek a very tough challenge. The 6-3, 6-4 scoreline betrays just how tight that match was.
Pic of the Tournament
4: Active players who have won Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles in their careers - Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Samantha Stosur, Barbora Krejcikova.
37: Top 10 wins for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her career, the most for a player who has yet to crack the Top 10 herself.
2: Slam champions in 2021 who have saved at least one match point en route to the title. Naomi Osaka saved two against Garbiñe Muguruza in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open. Krejcikova saved a match point against Sakkari in the semifinals of Roland Garros.
4: Tournament champions to save match points en route to the title in 2021. Along with Osaka and Krejcikova, Ashleigh Barty did so at the Miami Open, as did Iga Swiatek in Rome.
25: Singles main-draw match-wins for Krejcikova so far in 2021, behind only Barty and Aryna Sabalenka.
20: Singles main-draw match-wins for Krejcikova in her entire career before 2021.
Quote of the Tournament: Marjan Cuk, coach of Tamara Zidansek
"This is the thing where tennis is so important, but it's not the only way, you know? We must spend a whole day. How to do it? Just to talk about tennis? You get tense then. There are many things. We are mostly very positive. We enjoy every moment of life. Why not?
"We are not turtles that we live 220 years. Let's enjoy it, c'mon."