Road to the WTA Finals: From Roland Garros champ to Top 10, the rise of Barbora Krejcikova

2021 WTA Finals Guadalajara

2021 WTA Finals Guadalajara

Barbora Krejcikova never stopped dreaming of what she could accomplish as a singles player. But throughout her astonishing 2021 campaign, which included a Roland Garros championship, her first major title and consistency that earned her a spot in the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, the 25-year-old Czech was pinching herself to make sure it was all real. 

"For me, being here, having this chance, it's unbelievable," Krejcikova said this summer as she readied for her US Open main-draw debut. "It's actually unbelievable. I never expected that I could be this high and play on this stage."

Krejcikova began the season at a career-high No.65 in singles, a feat that already felt like a miracle. Before the 2021 season, the Brno-native was known almost singularly as a doubles player. Krejcikova and her partner, Katerina Siniakova, had already been ranked No.1 in 2018 in a season in which they won Roland Garros and Wimbledon. 

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But Krejcikova's singles career had yet to take flight until last fall, when she advanced to the Round of 16 at Roland Garros to crack the Top 100 for the first time in her career. She quietly rode that confidence through the end of the season, making the Round of 16 in Ostrava and her first WTA semifinal in Linz to finish out the regular season. Even with her end of season surge, Krejcikova came into the 2021 season with a 20-20 career record in singles. 

First WTA 1000 final in Dubai

It took just four tournaments for Krejcikova to put her stamp on the 2021 season and foreshadow what was to come. After her Australian Open hopes were derailed by two weeks of hard quarantine, Krejcikova rebounded from a failed qualifying campaign in Doha to blitz her way to a first WTA 1000 final and second WTA final overall at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. 

En route to the final, Krejcikova did not lose a set while notching wins over Maria Sakkari, Jelena Ostapenko, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Potapova and Jil Teichmann. Krecjikova would come up short in the final against Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-6(6), 6-3, but the run boosted her ranking to a new career-high at No.38.

Internationaux de Strasbourg/Chryslène Caillaud

From heartbreaking loss to first WTA title in Strasbourg

As Krejcikova worked to adjust to her newfound status as a Top 40 singles player, it would take another four events until she posted back-to-back wins. In retrospect, her second-round loss to Iga Swiatek in Miami and opening-round loss to Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa in Madrid were no cause for concern. Krejcikova put her Madrid loss to the side quickly, going on to win the doubles title with Siniakova.

Road to WTA Finals, singles

Road to WTA Finals, doubles

"It still feels pretty unreal," she said after Madrid. "That's the first thing. It's not written anywhere that you're going to be like this all the time, that you're going to be Top 40 in singles and you're going to be winning the titles in doubles and stuff like this. 

"Even if I'm going to go higher, I'm going to be saying the same thing, that it's unreal that it's actually happening. A girl from a little city in Czech Republic where we have six courts. The biggest player that actually came up was playing Czech Championships under-18s and lost first or second round."

Making her singles main-draw debut in Rome, Krejcikova earned the first Top 10 win of her career, over Sofia Kenin, to earn a rematch with Swiatek in the Round of 16. Looking to avenge her Miami loss, Krejcikova led the reigning Roland Garros champion by a set and a break and held two match points, but failed to close out the win, losing 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-5. 

Swiatek would go on to win her first WTA 1000 in Rome. Krejcikova would go on to win her next 15 matches. 

Buoyed by the confidence from going toe-to-toe with Swiatek on clay, Krejcikova battled her way to her first WTA title in Strasbourg, a WTA 250 event. With wins over Oceane Dodin, Caroline Garcia, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Jule Niemeier and Sorana Cirstea, Krejcikova followed in her former coach and mentor Jana Novotna's footsteps to become the third Czech woman to win Strasbourg.

Krejcikova sweeps Roland Garros for first major singles title

When Krejcikova played Roland Garros in the fall of 2020, she was ranked well outside the Top 100. Eight months later, Krejcikova was crossing off career milestones, seemingly on a weekly basis. Now ranked No.33 and seeded at a Slam for the first time, she quietly took care of business in both the singles and doubles draws.

After her quick turnaround from winning Strasbourg, Krejcikova lost her first set at Roland Garros to Kristyna Pliskova in the opening round. Krejcikova would not lose a set again until the semifinals. She reeled off 11 consecutive sets to defeat Pliskova and Alexandrova, score her second Top 10 win against Elina Svitolina. She defeated Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff to make her first major semifinal. 

Facing Maria Sakkari for a place in the final, Krejcikova faced a match point before edging Sakkari in a three-hour marathon, winning 7-5, 4-6, 9-7. 

As Krejcikova advanced to her first major singles final with the loss of just two sets, she and Siniakova booked a spot in their second major final of the season with the loss of just one set. Krejcikova went into championship weekend riding an 11-match winning streak in singles and bidding to become the first woman since 1991 to sweep the singles and doubles titles at Roland Garros (Mary Pierce). 

Krejcikova sealed her place in the history books by defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen and then turned around 24 hours later to win the doubles with Siniakova, defeating Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek in straight sets. 

Champions Corner: Krejcikova sends message to locker room - 'If I can do it, they can do it'

"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. Everything just changed. 

"I just feel like there are so many girls actually in the locker room, they have the abilities. If I can actually do it, they have the ability to do it as well. I have some favorite girls that I already texted and they texted me and then go to congratulate me and I just wrote them, I have no doubt that one day you're going to be standing in my place because I believe you have the ability to actually do it." 

Top 10 debut beckons after sizzling summer run, Prague title

A post-Roland Garros slump would have been understandable, but Krejcikova simply refused to lose. From Wimbledon through the US Open, Krejcikova did not lose to anyone on tour other than No.1 Ashleigh Barty or No.2 Aryna Sabalenka. Playing her first tournament as a major champion, Krejcikova advanced to the Round of 16 at Wimbledon in her main-draw debut, losing to eventual champion Barty. She then returned home to win her third title of the season, winning the WTA 250 event in Prague without losing a set. 

Krejcikova's Prague title would eventually boost her into the Top 10 for the first time, making her debut at No.10 on Aug. 9.

US Open Notebook: Krejcikova in disbelief over 2021 season

On the North American hardcourts, Krejcikova's consistency continued. In her first tournament after the Olympic break, she advanced to the quarterfinals in Cincinnati, where she was undone by Barty in straight sets. Then making her US Open main-draw debut, Krejcikova advanced to her second major quarterfinal of the season before bowing out to Sabalenka.

As a result of her stellar season, which saw her win 29 of her last 33 WTA matches of the regular season, Krejcikova became the third player to qualify for the WTA Finals, behind No.1 Barty and No.2 Sabalenka. She finished her breakout season with a 45-17 record in singles (Krejcikova had just 20 WTA main-draw singles wins in her career before this season) and tied for third on tour with three titles. 

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