Barbora Krejcikova
Barbora Krejcikova of Czech Republic celebrate with the trophy after her win over Iga Swiatek of Poland in the final of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on February 23, 2023. It was Krejcikova’s sixth WTA singles title. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Barbora Krejcikova is the champion in Dubai. Read again: Barbora Krejcikova is the winner of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship. Not Iga Swiatek. Not Aryna Sabalenka. It’s Krejcikova, the World No. 30. Well, she’s a former French Open champion.

The Czech never figured in the conversations around the WTA 1000 event. After all, she was unseeded. Most of the discussions swirled around Sabalenka’s superb win at the Australian Open and her rise to No. 2 in the world. We gushed at Swiatek’s revival after the Melbourne setback and her dominant display at the Qatar Open.

Gulf News

Read more

Perhaps, the only person who believed Krejcikova could win was the Czech herself. She nearly sank in the second round but survived the three-setter against World No. 8 Daria Kasatkina. That win turned out to be the turning point. “That match got really close. I almost lost in the second round. It gave me confidence. From there on, I started to play every single game better,” Krejcikova said after winning the tournament on Saturday.

Along the way, 27-year-old knocked out fellow Czech Petra Kvitova (World No. 15), Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka (No. 2) and American Jessica Pegula (No. 3). So, she was undaunted at the prospect of taking on the World No. 1 in the final. Although Swiatek holds a 2-1 edge in their head-to-head meetings, Krejcikova was one of the few players to beat the Polish top seed. That was in Ostrava, Krejcikova’s home turf, with the support of an adoring crowd. That was only Swiatek’s second loss in a WTA Tour final and the first in three years.

Much of Krejcikova’s confidence stemmed from the third-round victory over Australian Open champ Sabalena, who strung together a 13-match win streak. After being bagelled in the first set and with a break down in the second set, the unseeded Czech turned up the heat and turned the match around.

“I believe that I can play with these girls, the best ones. I also believe that I can beat them. I was just looking for the chance,” Krejcikova said after the stunning win. She was true to her word as she proceeded to beat World No.3 Pegula in three sets. Yet, no one gave her a chance against Swiatek.

How Krejcikova tamed Swiatek

The final was a rematch of Ostrava. “It’s always very nice to play the best one in the world, and she’s the best one right now. She was the best one last year. She’s playing some great tennis, so I’m looking forward to playing against her. I think it’s going to be a great final,” Krejcikova said after the semifinal.

It wasn’t a great final for Swiatek, who was never allowed to dictate the rallies. With whipping crosscourt returns, Krejcikova rattled the Pole, who was broken five times in the match. The Czech came out on top, winning the big points, and even enjoyed a slice of luck when a lob clipped the edge of the baseline.

“I think I showed my best tennis this week,” Krejcikova said after winning her sixth WTA singles title. “I’m really happy with the way how I played, how I was able to play my tennis but also hold the nerves, just enjoy everything that was happening during this week on the court,” she said, cradling the trophy she lost to Garbine Muruguza in the 2021 final.

That was the year Krejcikova became only the third unseeded player to win the French Open singles since 2017 (There were none from 1968 to 2016.) She also claimed the doubles partnering Katerina Siniakova, a rare feat last achieved by Frenchwoman Mary Pierce 23 years ago.

Krejcikova’s 10 doubles Grand Slam titles

Mentored by the late Czech tennis great Jana Novotna, Krejcikova rose to a a career-high of World No. 2 in singles. She racked up an incredible 10 Grand Slam doubles titles, including three in mixed and a career Grand Slam. Then Krejcikova faded away, although she picked up singles titles in Tallinn (Estonia) and Ostrava (Czech Republic) last year.

An injury put Krejcikova out of action for four months last year, affecting her rankings, and she dropped out of the top 20. The Dubai win could resurrect her singles career, lifting her to the 16th spot.

Little wonder Dubai has a special place in her heart. “I was here in [the] final a couple of years ago. It’s a tournament that started everything for me in singles. [It’s a] very, very special place. Definitely, I’m going to have this in my mind throughout the season, Krejcikova said, adding that her place is in the top three.

Well, this is a start. Beating the top three at an event is not easy. She’s only the fifth player to do that after Sabalenka, Serena and Venus Williams, and Steffi Graf. It shows she has the talent and skill to be among the best. Swiatek will agree