At U.S. Open, Barbora Krejcikova Makes the Most of Finally Making It

Barbora Krejcikova missed out on last year’s U.S. Open when the qualifying draw was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, she played small tournaments in her native Czech Republic in hopes that she might earn enough ranking points to move closer to her goal of breaking into the WTA top 100 singles rankings for the first time.

Krejcikova cracked the top 100 last October, but that was only the beginning. This year, she is not only playing the U.S. Open, she’s ranked in the top 10, moving from afterthought to juggernaut.

Beginning with a WTA title in Strasbourg in May, Krejcikova is on a 28-3 roll, which included a stunning run to the French Open title, and another WTA title in July in Prague. Her three losses in that time came at Wimbledon and Cincinnati to top-ranked Ashleigh Barty, who was the eventual champion at both events, and to eventual gold medalist Belinda Bencic at the Olympics.

“It feels good, for sure,” Krejcikova said in an interview. “I’m still feeling like I’m dreaming, but I’m also improving with every single match. I’m just very happy that I can play all the big tournaments, and get to see all the big players, to learn from them a lot and have a chance to play against them. All of this is something very special, and I’m just extremely happy it’s happening.”

The eighth-seeded Krejcikova will face the ninth-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza in the fourth round on Sunday, the first Grand Slam match between two women ranked in the WTA top 10 since the 2020 Australian Open (Muguruza is ranked 10th).

Muguruza, who beat Krejcikova in March in Dubai and lost to her last month in Cincinnati, called her steep ascent “quite shocking,” and said she could already sense a difference in Krejcikova’s game and attitude. “She has way more confidence now after winning a slam,” Muguruza said. “I can feel it in her shots.”

Krejcikova, 25, said that her work ethic changed and sharpened during the pandemic, when she pushed herself to do more fitness, physiotherapy, and recovery work than she had before.

“I had more time, so I spent more time with my coach,” Krejcikova said. “I started to be a little more professional. I didn’t expect that it’s going to help, but as I see it right now, it’s helping and I’m moving forward. That’s where I get the craziness in my head saying ‘OK, you’ve got to go again, you’ve got to go again.’”

Krejcikova said that “craziness” has led to a single-mindedness about her craft. “I just work really hard, and I dedicate everything to tennis,” she said. “All my focus is around tennis, around the things about tennis. Tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis. Even sometimes my family says I have to stop at some moments, but I’m at this stage where I’m playing this well, and I just want to keep improving. That’s my mentality.”

Simona Halep, who first played against Krejcikova five years ago when she was ranked 200th, said she had always recognized a strong drive in Krejcikova, on top of her quick hands and stable demeanor. “She’s a great player, and I think she deserves to be there,” Halep said. “Every time I saw her in the gym and on the court, she was working super hard. Yeah, credit to her.”

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Krejcikova said she isn’t sure what kept her from reaching her goals sooner, but said that she wanted to enjoy every moment now.

“I’m just really happy I’m here,” she said. “Playing the smaller tournaments, it’s not the same. Being here, playing Grand Slams, playing WTAs, being able to play on a big stage, on a big court, you cannot really describe it. You have that feeling in your stomach when you step on a court and you’re very nervous and you don’t know what to expect. You just want to play your best tennis, and you don’t know if you’re going to play your best tennis or not.

“Then the first point starts, and for me time stops, and I’m just there. I’m just enjoying the moment, and I think during that moment it’s where I’m playing my best tennis. I just want to get to this mood, to this point. I just want to fight for every single point in every single match, because it took me so long to get here, and who knows how long I’m going to be here? You never really know, so I want to take every chance that I get.”

Krejcikova, who is ranked second in the WTA year-to-date rankings behind Barty, said her next goal is to be considered worthy of the sport’s largest stages: the main courts and marquee sessions at Grand Slam tournaments.

She said that despite her impressive results, she does not feel like a star attraction.

“Right now I don’t feel that even after all that I did, and all that’s happening, I still don’t feel that T.V. wants to see me or the tournaments want to see me,” she said. “I don’t know why; it doesn’t really matter. I just want to get to that point where I’m going to play my first round on a huge court, and there will be people who want to see me.

“I’ll want them to be entertained, and to do the best show for them. I’m not at this point yet. My motivation is not winning or losing; my motivation is to get to this stage.”

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