Czech Barbora Krejcikova showed incredible spirit to beat Maria Sakkari in a classic French Open semi-final and reach her first Grand Slam final.
Krejcikova, 25, won 7-5 4-6 9-7 with her fifth match point – after saving one herself – in a dramatic match lasting over three hours.
Krejcikova thought she had won earlier in the final game but had a line call wrongly overruled by the umpire.
She will play Russian 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final.
“I always wanted to play a match like this,” said Krejcikova, who is ranked 33rd in the singles and also a former doubles world number one.
“When I was younger and I was playing juniors, I always wanted to play such a challenging match where we both had chances and were playing so well – and only one can win.
“Even if I lost today I would be very proud of myself because I was fighting. That is the most important thing, to fight, in here and in our own life.”
Pavlyuchenkova continued her late bloom at the French Open to also reach her first Grand Slam final, beating Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek 7-5 6-3 on the Paris clay.
Pavlyuchenkova, 29, was a dominant junior player but had never reached a Grand Slam semi-final.
Krejcikova keeps nerve to win after ‘brutal’ umpire mistake
In a highly unpredictable match full of twists and turns, 25-year-old Krejcikova was second best for much of the contest but somehow came through what turned into a Roland Garros classic.
After failing to convert her match point in the ninth game of the decider, Greek 17th seed Sakkari lost her nerve and failed to serve out for a place in the final.
That allowed Krejcikova, who had not played at her best level previously, to regain her composure in the decisive moments.
What was arguably most amazing in a deciding set packed with key moments, tension and drama was how the Czech was able to brush off the disappointment of being wrongly denied victory four points earlier.
At 30-40, Sakkari hit a forehand which was called out and Krejcikova – who stretched her arms into the air in celebration – also thought was long. Umpire Pierre Bacchi, however, disagreed.
The Frenchman scampered down to the clay and pointed out the mark where he thought the ball had hit the line.
Technology is not used on the clay to challenge calls, with testing so far not proving it is accurate enough on the surface.
However, television replays seemed to indicate the ball was out, leading Britain’s former world number one Andy Murray to say on Twitter that Bacchi had made an “absolutely brutal error”.
‘She’s why I’m here’ – Krejcikova pays emotional tribute to Novotna
Krejcikova is a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion and on Friday will play in the semi-finals of the women’s doubles alongside fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova.
While her progress in that event is not surprising, the run to Saturday’s singles final certainly is.
Krejcikova insisted after her quarter-final win against American teenager Coco Gauff that she did not want to be labelled as a specialist doubles player.
After this memorable run, that is now unlikely.
In her on-court interview, Krejcikova dedicated her success to her mentor Jana Novotna, the former Wimbledon champion who died in November 2017 from cancer.
She also thanked Jan Kodes, the 1970 and 1971 French Open men’s champion, and 18-time major singles winner Martina Navratilova, who were both born in the Czech Republic and watching from the stands, for their support.
“I appreciate all my heroes and I thank Jana from upstairs,” said Krejcikova.
“She looked after me and I really miss her and I want to thank her. Because of her I’m here and it is really important to say it out loud.”
Pavlyuchenkova’s greater experience helps her through
While Pavlyuchenkova had not played at this level previously, she did have greater experience and pedigree than her 23-year-old opponent Zidansek, another semi-final debutant.
Pavlyuchenkova had reached six Grand Slam quarter-finals – including at Roland Garros in 2011 – whilst having taken the scalps of Belarusian third seed Aryna Sabalenka and two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka in her run to the last four.
In comparison, 85th-ranked Zidansek had never been beyond the second round at a major.
She has also never won a WTA title, nor been ranked inside the world’s top 50, making her progress all the more surprising.
The Slovenian, who beat 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in the first round, possesses a heavy forehand and the ability to play with variety, teeing up an intriguing semi-final which few would have dared to confidently predict.
An entertaining first set was delicately poised at 5-5 after both players had broken serve twice, with Pavlyuchenkova pinching the opener when Zidansek produced a nervy double fault on the Russian’s first set point.
Once Pavlyuchenkova broke for a 3-1 lead in the second set, Zidansek looked in danger of crumbling but fought back to break serve for 4-3 when Pavlyuchenkova also double-faulted at a key moment.
However, the Russian composed herself to break again in the following game and served out to clinch her place in Saturday’s final.
After Zidansek pummelled a backhand into the tramlines on the first match point, Pavlyunchenkova showed little emotion, seemingly shocked by the scale of her achievement and covered in sweat after a tough battle.
“I don’t know what to think because I’m so tired but so happy. It is so emotional,” she said in her on-court interview.