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Dani's Take: Krejcikova's triumph, Djokovic's usurpation, and taking stock of the final 72 hours in Paris
Hantuchova has already witnessed an epic two days of action unfold between the men's semifinals and women's final, and previews Novak Djokovic vs Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday.
Published Jun 12, 2021
The last three days of any major tournament bring an intrigue unlike any that come before it. At this year’s Roland Garros, the championship weekend began with an epic 58th encounter between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and continued on Saturday with a maiden major triumph for Czech sensation Barbora Krejcikova. Former world No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova has been there through it all in Paris, and recaps a jam-packed 48 hours while previewing what’s to come on Sunday, when Djokovic takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas for a possible 19th Grand Slam title.
Friday: Djokovic overcomes Nadal for only the second time in Paris
That was one of the most special moments I’ve ever witnessed on a tennis court. It was one of the best matches, particularly when you factor in the emotion from the fans, and the standing ovations from the crowds. The fans were thinking they’d have to leave at 11 P.M., but the announcer surprised us all when it was revealed they could stay. As a tennis player, I admit I sometimes watch Novak and Rafa play and make me think they’re playing an entirely different sport. They’re just from a different planet with the shots that they’re able to make.
This is clearly the time in tennis history where we get to sit back and appreciate everything. I know we’ve been saying things like that since around their 30th match, and here we are after the 58th match of their rivalry, but it’s truly a privilege to be a part of the game right now—whether you’re a member of the media, or you’re a player competing in this kind of field because of what they’ve been able to achieve.
Saturday: Krejcikova sinks Pavlyuchenkova in dramatic first final
It was obviously going to be emotional for both girls, but Barbora Krejcikova was able to do what she’s done so well this tournament, getting though overwhelming situations even when she would get tight. Playing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, you could see her realize that Nastia couldn’t move that well after injuring herself in the second set, and that put double the pressure on her, leading to her momentarily losing some of her intensity. Nastia picked up her levels big time; it was almost as if she had nothing to lose.
In the third set it could have gone either way, but I’m just so impressed with the way Krejcikova has been able to deal with all of her emotions, being in a territory she’s never been before. I truly believe that her doubles experience, which has put her on big stages like Philippe Chatrier stadium for Grand Slam finals, helped her big time.
It’s hard to believe she will be playing singles at Wimbledon for the first time in her career; it goes to show how quickly things can change in tennis. These next couple of weeks will be a big test for her, with all of the media attention she’s going to get at home in the Czech Republic, but she’s overcome so many emotional moments in the last two weeks and has been able to deal with it. The grass-court season will surely be a poignant part of the year for her, especially given what it meant to Jana Novotna. I’m sure she will provide plenty of inspiration from above; the story of their time together is so beautiful and loved that she was able to share it on court today.
From a tactical standpoint, her variety made her dangerous from the very beginning. She has such beautiful hands honed from her doubles, can hit the high balls—as we saw in her previous matches—and is able to make good use of her slice backhand, which is always going to be effective on clay. I think it was just a matter of putting it all together and with the confidence she now has, she clearly believes in herself so much more. We talk about mental strength in this tournament, and it’s fascinating how many more girls are traveling to major tournaments with sports psychologists.
Tennis has truly become a mental game in the last few years, but even more so since Iga Swiatek won here in October and what she was able to accomplish with a mental coach. They’ve certainly become the fashion these days, but in the best possible way; I absolutely love this development, because it allows the girls to really work on their mental game. Armed with this new confidence, Barbora isn’t afraid to use all of her shots, and use them the correct way.
I was definitely missing this aspect in my own career; I wish I could have had that person to talk to. Nastia discussed how important it is to have someone who will listen to what you’re going through, and helping you become your own person. That can also come naturally with age, but much more slowly. Thankfully, I was very lucky to meet the right people after I retired!
Speaking of Nastia, she should also be very proud of herself even if she couldn’t win the title today. I was her first opponent at a Grand Slam, all the way back in 2007 at Wimbledon. There was so much hype and attention around our match, and I remember all of the agents and sponsors who were watching us play. She was supposed to be the next big thing, and I don’t know why, but I always loved to get up for those kinds of opponents. Maybe I liked the idea of defending the older generation’s territory, of being able to say, ‘I know you’re going to be good, but not yet!’ To her credit, she’s had a long time to wait and she never gave up. I’m so happy for her and the success she’s had this week, because she’s always had the game, the potential, the shots. She has exceptional timing, particularly off the backhand side—it’s one of the best shots we have in women’s tennis.
We really had an amazing day for women’s tennis.
Sunday: Tsitsipas stands between Djokovic and his march toward history
I strongly believe Novak will be able to take the momentum of beating Rafa through to the finals, and I pick him as the overwhelming favorite on Sunday. For him to overcome Rafa in the semifinals at Roland Garros, it couldn’t get better than that for his confidence. Some of the shots he’s hit in his last six matches, you’re watching and thinking, ‘There’s no way he’ll be able to make that,’ and every time he comes up with tennis I didn’t know was humanly possible.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has had an incredible tournament, and the match he played one of his best matches ever against Novak in Rome, but it’s hard to see him winning in final.
If Novak can win a second French Open title, it would put him only one away from tying Rafa and Roger, but it’s still so hard to make any predictions when it comes to the “Greatest Ever…” debates. The time now is better spent enjoying each and every second that the three of them are out there on the court.
What I do believe is that all three are better players because of each other, and that what they’ve achieved is as much because of their rivalries as their individual abilities. Had it just been Roger, I don’t see him reaching the level he has without the presence of Rafa and Novak. Looking towards Sunday’s final, it’s also cool to see the Next Gen challenging this "Golden Gen," and we’ll see how that turns out tomorrow.