Barbora Krejcikova interview: “After achieving all the dreams, it’s time to just go and really enjoy”

It took the Czech time to make it big but as she begins her US Open bid, the Roland-Garros champion tells Simon Cambers that she always believed she had the game for the top

Barbora Krejcikova at Cincinnati in 2021

2021 US Open, QF | Krejcikova [8] v Sabalenka [2] |Ashe Stadium, Tue. 1:00 am.

One year ago, Barbora Krejcikova was ranked outside the top 100, wondering if she would ever fulfil her dreams of making it as a singles player.

Already a four-time Grand Slam champion in doubles – twice in women’s doubles and twice in mixed – Krejcikova felt she had the game to get to the top but could not show it in the biggest moments.

Wind the clock forward a year and the Czech has arrived at the US Open as a Grand Slam singles champion, having won the Roland-Garros title in stunning style earlier this summer (along with the women’s doubles), as a top-10 player, and an Olympic gold medallist in doubles.

Even now she has to pinch herself that it’s all real. “It’s been a rollercoaster,” Krejcikova told Tennis Majors on the eve of the US Open. “I’m really happy that all of this happened and that I’m in the position where I am right now. It was always a place where I wanted to be and where I wanted to play. I just really appreciate it and I’m grateful for it.”

From outsider to Roland-Garros champion

Krejcikova broke into the top 100 after reaching the last 16 at Roland-Garros in October 2020. It was a taste of what was to come this year, though few would have predicted she would cut through the draw and take the title.

Having already won Grand Slam titles in doubles, with Katerina Siniakova in Paris and at Wimbledon in 2018 and in mixed in Australia with Rajeev Ram in in 2019 and 2021 – and in 2020 with Nikola Mektic – Krejcikova knew what it felt like to be around on finals weekend.

“I just knew what I should expect. It was a totally different feeling but still I had this feeling playing doubles there on the same court with the crowd, I had just experienced it already. It was nice for me. It was good. I think it had an advantage when I went there for sure.”

On the eve of this year’s Roland-Garros event, she won the singles title in Strasbourg, but it was still a huge surprise when she romped to a first Slam singles title, beating Elina Svitolina, Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff, Maria Sakkari and then, in the final, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win.

“I always felt that I actually had the game,” she said. “When I was practising with all the top girls, I thought I was playing well with them. I think it just took me a little more time to organise my game and just find really my weapons. I think that’s why it took me longer.

“Entering into the top 100 was one of the keys”

What exactly was it, then, that made the difference?

“I didn’t really do anything differently than before,” she said. “I think maybe the pandemic helped because (it meant) more time back home playing with my coach, when before he couldn’t really travel. I’m one year older, I just matured again a little bit more. I just felt like I was just enjoying tennis a little bit more.

“Entering the top 100 was also one of the keys that because it was something I always wanted to achieve. It took me a long, long (time) to actually do it. It took me more than three years. I think all of these were the turning points.”

Winning Roland-Garros changed everything, taking her into the world’s top 20. And the confidence it gave her enabled her to maintain her form, winning in Prague the week after Wimbledon and then breaking into the top 10 in August.

Barbora Krejcikova, Roland-Garros 2021
Barbora Krejcikova, Roland-Garros 2021

“I would say it changed a lot of things because it’s a dream,” she said. “I think there are just so many players that want to achieve this and it’s like a dream come true. I always felt like when I was winning the doubles that I can win something else…but I wanted to do well in singles. Adding this gold medal, already right now it’s an amazing career.

“I just think that I am maybe more calm and I just enjoy it. I enjoy the process maybe more than I did a year ago when I always like wanted to get to top 100 and I couldn’t really make it. It was really difficult times there. Now, after achieving all the dreams, it’s time to just go and really enjoy and play tennis and do what I love.”

“I realised the Olympics are way, way bigger than Grand Slams”

Becoming Olympic champion with Siniakova was a special moment.

Like Belinda Bencic, who beat her in the third round on the way to winning the singles title in Tokyo, Krejcikova enjoyed showing off her gold medal in the weeks after Tokyo. It’s now safely tucked away at home but she realised the size of her achievement when she went back to the Czech Republic.

“It’s massive, especially back home,” she said. “Even the people who are not really following tennis, during the Olympics, they were all following tennis. Me and my partner, we actually made history there.

Krejcikova - Siniakova, Jeux olympiques de Tokyo 2020
STOYAN NENOV

“I didn’t expect that the Olympics are going to be like bigger than my French Open title because I always felt my French Open title is actually quite big. But then after winning the gold, I actually realised that the Olympics are just way, way bigger.

“And I was actually happy that I didn’t know this before because I just think that I would be just more nervous than I actually was.”

“A lot of people will expect me to win, but I’m just going to play”

Having won Roland-Garros as an underdog, now Krejcikova is already a name that others will see as someone to gun for, the hunter becoming the hunted. But the 25-year-old seems ready to deal with expectations.

“There was always a pressure,” she said. “When I was outside of the top 100 and all the Czech girls they had been in the top 100 – I was beating them but I wasn’t really able to get there. So that was really a big pressure already.

“As soon as I achieved that – (even though) a lot of people will expect me to win, I’m just going to go play. I’m going to have good days where I’m going to be winning and I’m going to have bad days, where I’m going to be losing. That’s the process. And I hope I’m going to have more of the days where I’ll be winning.”

Such is her meteoric rise to the top that, just as at Wimbledon this summer, Krejcikova is playing in the main draw at the US Open for the first time. Seeded No 8, she played Astra Sharma in round one on Monday, trouncing her 6-0, 6-4.

“It’s cool, huh?” she said of her main draw entry. “I would say it’s maybe the same feeling as playing Wimbledon for the first time being a top 16 seed. It’s pretty amazing because before I had only the chance to play qualies. Now it’s different. It’s special. I really am just very happy that that I’ll be playing and I’m looking forward to play.”

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