Barbora Krejcikova
Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic in action against Jessica Pegula of the US in the semifinals at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on February 24, 2023. Krejcikova won in three sets and will meet World No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the final. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Beware of an unseeded Barbora Krejcikova. It makes the former World No 2 a dangerous floater in the draw. That’s precisely what happened in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship. Coming into the WTA 1000 event as a World No. 30, the Czech has knocked out Petra Kvitova (World No. 15), Aryna Sabalenka (No. 2), Jessica Pegula (No. 3) and Iga Swiatek (No. 1).

In the finals, the Czech defeated Swiatek, who has been in red-hot form. Krejcikova was one of the few players who had beaten the Polish top seed earlier. The ealier win came in Ostrava, Krejcikova’s backyard, in front of a vociferous crowd. Yet, it gave the Czech the edge, and it showed as Krejcikova took control to dictate the rallies.

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If you are not a tennis buff, you may not be aware of Krejcikova’s exploits. In 2021, the Czech 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. After a career-high of World No.2, Krejcikova faded from public memory despite racking up an incredible 10 Grand Slam doubles titles, including three in mixed and a career Grand Slam.

Much of that can be attributed to the revolving door of Grand Slam champions in women’s tennis, with no player dominating the tour. All that changed last year when Swiatek of Poland hit the winning trail that ground to a halt in January in Australia.

Krejcikova’s win streak in Dubai

Krejcikova’s endured a poor run in singles and dropped down the rankings. That didn’t prevent the Czech from picking up singles titles in Tallinn (Estonia) and Ostrava (Czech Republic) last year. Back in Dubai, where she was a finalist in 2021, the 27-year-old delivered the biggest shock of the WTA100 tournament by ousting Australia Open champion and second seed Sabalenka of Belarus.

It’s indeed a massive shock considering the glorious form of Sabalenka, who strung together a 13-match win streak. The Belarusian had looked imperious in dismantling the defending champion Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open winner. Not many gave Krejcikova a chance after Sabalenka’s display of power and precision in the third round.

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Krejcikova knew she had a chance, despite losing the two previous encounters with Sabalenka. She wasn’t intimidated. “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. That chance came after she was a set down and 1-3 in the second set. She put Sabalenka’s serve under pressure, and the match turned on its head.

The seeds of Krejcikova’s upset lay in the Round of 16, when she despatched fell-Czech and her idol Petra Kvitova, Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014. At 32, Kvitova is still no pushover and is ranked World No 15. But Krejcikova, the World No. 30, does not respect rankings and reputations as she proceeded to take down her compatriot.

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It didn’t stop there as the Czech rode on her whipping forehands to take down Sabalenka and Pegula. Along the way, Krejcikova hit 139 winners in Dubai before the final, the most of any player.

With the win over No. 3 Pegula, Krejcikova has beaten every player in the WTA top 10, according to The Czech came to Dubai with No. 2, No. 3 and No. 8 missing from her top 10 set. She picked all of them with her wins over No. 8 Daria Kasatkina, No. 2 Sabalenka and No. 3 Pegula.

An Ostrava rematch in Dubai

The final was a rematch of Ostrava, and Krejcikova felt she had the edge, although Swiatek is ahead 2-1 in their meetings. “I think I showed my best tennis this week,” Krejcikova told reporters after winning her sixth 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.”

You can only agree with her. More power to the Czech.

NOTE: The column was updated after the final