PARIS — Barbora Krejcikova won the French Open Saturday, beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in three sets, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.
For Krejcikova, 25, of the Czech Republic, the win marked the highlight of a late-blooming but suddenly exploding career, and capped a surprising tournament in which many of the strongest players withdrew, retired, or were defeated early in the competition.
Krejcikova was not seeded at this tournament but was a sentimental favorite, capturing the crowd’s heart with her emotional post-match speeches filled with words of inspiration and tributes to her mentor and role model, the former Czech champion Jana Novotna, who died at 49 in 2017.
“All of this that happened the past two weeks has happened because she is looking out for me somewhere,” Krejcikova said on the court after the match.
Krejcikova received the winner’s trophy from Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam tournament singles winner, who defected from the former Czechoslovakia in 1975, 20 years before Krejcikova was born in a country that was much different by then.
She has been best known in past years for her prowess in doubles and will attempt to win that championship Sunday with her partner, Katerina Siniakova.
Krejcikova, 25, who was ranked outside the top 100 as recently as recently as last September, has one of the most multifaceted playing styles on the women’s tour.
She plays with any number of tricks and spins and possesses a dangerous moonball backhand that bounces high and can pin her opponents deep in the court. Power is not her thing, which makes her unusual in a sport obsessed with hitting hard. But what she lacks in power she makes up for in creativity.
In Pavlyuchenkova, 29, she faced a former teenage prodigy who had never made it past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament. Despite that frustration, Pavlyuchenkova has displayed remarkable durability, playing in every Grand Slam between the 2008 French Open until the 2020 United States Open.
Other than a semifinal appearance in Madrid last month, Pavlyuchenkova’s performances over the past six months gave few hints that she would have the run of her career at this French Open.
After the loss, Pavlyuchenkova said her brother had predicted last month that she had a bright moment ahead of her. Several of Pavlyuchenkova’s friends flew to Paris to witness the match, she said.
“I don’t know if they thought it was going to be my only final, so they decided to come,” she said.
Despite Pavlyuchenkova’s advantages and bigger reputation, Krejcikova beguiled her on the biggest points, playing a form of tennis jujitsu that is rarely seen.
The win — really the matchup itself — illustrated the continuing wide open nature of women’s tennis, where many women have a shot at the championship in seemingly every Grand Slam.
That was especially true the past two weeks in a tournament that had more than its share of twists and upsets. The four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka withdrew over a dispute with tennis officials about whether she had to appear at post-match news conferences. Ashleigh Barty, the world No. 1 and 2019 champion, retired during her second round match with a shoulder injury. The defending champion and heavy favorite, Iga Swiatek, lost in the quarterfinals.
Pavlyuchenkova and Krejcikova split the first two sets over the course of 80 minutes, taking turns playing both well and terribly.
The first set was all Krejcikova, who recovered from losing her serve in the first game to take the next six. She continually baffled Pavlyuchenkova, refusing to allow the Russian veteran to get comfortable, mixing flat strokes with topspin, slices with lobs and drop shots.
Pavlyuchenkova searched for a rhythm, but Krejcikova’s biggest weapon is her ability to keep her opponents from finding one. Since she rarely hits the ball hard, opponents often have to supply their own power, which can lead to missed targets, as it did for Pavlyuchenkova in the first set when she left ball after ball in the middle of the court for Krejcikova to put away. Krejcikova had 13 winners in the opening set, to just seven for Pavlyuchenkova.
In the first points of the second set, it appeared that Krejcikova was going to pull away.
Krejcikova held a break point in the first game, but Pavlyuchenkova saved it with a strong serve. In the next game she nailed a backhand winner to grab a 2-0 lead and just like that she had found her groove. Soon she was lacing shots at the lines, just out of reach of Krejcikova, who suddenly looked overpowered.
Leading 5-2, Pavlyuchenkova required treatment on the court for muscle soreness in the upper part of her left leg. A trainer massaged it and wrapped it with tape. If Pavlyuchenkova had any discomfort, it did not show as she returned to the court and broke Krejcikova with her 10th winner of the set to draw even.
In the third set, Pavlyuchenkova and Krejcikova traded jabs once more, breaking each other’s serve in the third and fourth games.
Back and forth they went, like two wrestlers rumbling around a mat, neither able to pin the other.
Then at 3-3 Krejcikova began to show the form she had displayed in the opening set. After winning three quick points on Pavlyuchenkova’s serve, she spun a crosscourt forehand to within inches of the sideline and grabbed a lead that she would not relinquish.
Showing her nerves, Krejcikova fumbled three match points but won the final game showing off the variety in her arsenal — a backhand hit on a nasty angle, a forehand she pulled off by running around her backhand, an untouchable forehand winner, and a deep ball that induced Pavlyuchenkova’s final stroke to drift just beyond the baseline.
“It’s really hard to put the words together,” Krejcikova said. “I cannot believe what just happened.”
A few minutes later, as Krejcikova held the trophy tight too her chest, the Czech flag rose over Court Philippe Chatrier.