Belinda Bencic fought back to beat Angelique Kerber in a blockbuster showdown and help Switzerland eliminate Germany on day two of the Billie Jean King Cup in Prague.

Germany lost to hosts Czech Republic on the opening day and were brushed aside 3-0 by Switzerland on Tuesday, with world number nine Kerber losing 5-7 6-2 6-2 to Bencic.

Kerber was carrying an injury and was outlasted by the Olympic gold medallist, with that triumph coming after Viktorija Golubic defeated Andrea Petkovic 6-4 7-5.

Golubic and Jil Teichmann added further gloss to the scoreline by overcoming Anna-Lena Friedsam and Nastasja Mariana Schunk in the doubles.

Switzerland will now meet the Czech Republic in a winners-takes-all contest to determine who finishes top of Group D.

The upset of the day came in Group B as Australia beat Belgium 2-1, with Daria Gavrilova kicking things off by beating Greet Minnen 6-4 1-6 6-4.

Storm Sanders then battled back to beat Elise Mertens 4-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-0, rendering Mertens and Minnen's doubles win nothing more than a consolation. 

In Group A, Russia cruised to a 3-0 win over Canada.

Daria Kasatkina beat Carol Zhao 6-3 6-1 and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was too strong for Rebecca Marino as she prevailed in three sets.

Slovakia top Group C, meanwhile, after beating the United States 2-1. Shelby Rogers fell 6-4 6-4 to Viktoria Kuzmova before Danielle Collins levelled with a 6-3 6-2 win against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

That set up a decider in the doubles, which went the distance as the Slovakian pair of Kuzmova and Tereza Mihalikova prevailed 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 12-10 in a thriller with Caroline Dolehide and CoCo Vandeweghe.

Maria Sakkari admitted she got twitchy before finishing off Simona Halep to reach the Kremlin Cup semi-finals.

The Greek star is chasing what would be just her second career title at WTA level, but the limited silverware belies her growing reputation: Sakkari has shot up to a career-high seventh in the world rankings during her best season on tour.

Looking to finish with a flourish, both in Moscow and next month at the season-ending WTA Finals, Sakkari scored a 6-4 6-4 victory over former world number one Halep on Friday.

The victory sets up a last-four clash with Ekaterina Alexandrova, after the Russian impressed a home crowd by landing a 6-3 6-4 win against top seed Aryna Sabalenka.

Yet Sakkari was almost reeled in by Halep from the point of victory in the second set, being unable to finish off the match on her own serve after building a 5-1 lead. Halep twice broke back, before dropping her own serve.

"It was a very tough match today," Sakkari said in an on-court interview. "It was the first time I'd played Simona, but I knew what to expect: she makes a lot of balls, more than any other player. I had a tough moment in the second set when I was 5-1 up, but finally, I found a way. I got a little nervous, a little bit tired.

"The last couple of months have been tough, I've been travelling a lot so haven't recovered enough. I just tried harder in the last game and just went for it."

Alexandrova's shock win over Sabalenka gave her a sixth career victory over a top-10 player. Second seed Garbine Muguruza followed Sabalenka out of the tournament, walloped 6-1 6-1 by in-form Estonian Anett Kontaveit, who has won 19 of her last 21 matches on tour, including beating Sakkari in the Ostrava final last month.

Kontaveit's semi-final opponent at the WTA 500 event will be Marketa Vondrousova, who claimed a 6-4 6-2 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

At the Tenerife Open, Italian Camila Giorgi is the only seeded survivor in the semi-finals. The Italian fourth seed saw off Arantxa Rus 6-1 6-1, with Frenchwoman Alize Cornet and American Ann Li also among Friday's winners at the WTA 250 tournament.

Aryna Sabalenka edged past Ajla Tomljanovic in the Kremlin Cup to reach the quarter-finals in her first match since contracting COVID-19 after the US Open semi-finals. 

Top seed Sabalenka – appearing in Moscow for the first time – had not played since being downed by Leylah Fernandez, having tested positive for coronavirus on the eve of the Indian Wells Open. 

The Belarusian, who sits second in the world rankings, profited from a bye in the first round before battling past Tomljanovic 7-6 (7-2) 4-6 6-1 on Wednesday as she fired 10 aces but made 30 unforced errors. 

Sabalenka will now meet Ekaterina Alexandrova after the Russian cruised past Anhelina Kalinina 6-4 6-1, while Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova comfortably defeated Bernarda Pera 6-2 7-5. 

Number two seed Garbine Muguruza also reached her seventh quarter-final of the season as she defeated Tereza Martincova 6-4 4-6 6-3 in just under three hours in Moscow. 

Meanwhile, Elina Svitolina was shocked in the Tenerife Open as she was dumped out by Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, who succeeded 5-7 6-3 6-2 to claim her first top-10 victory. 

Svitolina was the favourite in Spain and comfortably took the first set on Tuesday. However, inadequate light stopped play and the 19-year-old Osorio responded emphatically the following day to secure a memorable triumph. 

Ann Li coasted past Varvara Gracheva 6-4 6-2 after Anna Karolina Schmiedlova had dispatched Jaqueline Cristian 6-2 7-5 in the opening match of the day. 

Xinyu Wang retired injured against Alize Cornet, who led 4-1 in the decisive set, while Donna Vekic and Irina-Camelia Begu's match was suspended for bad light with the Croatian leading by a set. 

Elina Svitolina required a third-set tie-break to progress at the Indian Wells Open, while former world number one Victoria Azarenka handled an old rival in straight sets and Simona Halep fell victim to an upset. 

Svitolina – the fourth seed – dropped the first set to 32nd seed Sorana Cirstea before fighting back to reach the round of 16 at the WTA Premier 1000 event on Sunday.

Two-time grand-slam champion Azarenka joined Svitolina in the next round after knocking out seventh seed Petra Kvitova, but 11th seed Halep became Aliaksandra Sasnovich's latest conquest. 

 

SVITOLINA SURVIVES CIRSTEA SCARE

Svitolina needed two hours, 32 minutes to outlast Cirstea 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3) and remain unbeaten in three career matches against the Romanian. 

The Ukrainian was on the defensive throughout the opening set, facing 11 break points on her serve and managing to save eight of them before Cirstea finally won out. 

Svitolina tightened things up from there, saving four of five break points the rest of the match. 

"It was a very tough match today, and I was fighting and trying to find my game," said Svitolina, who will face Jessica Pegula next. "It was a bit of a rollercoaster.

"I wish I could play a little bit better in the first set, I had chances to grab that set, but unfortunately it didn't play the way I wanted. I had to fight for every point, and Sorana played a great match, I think. I'm happy that I could win today."

 

AZARENKA TAKES DOWN KVITOVA

Azarenka won her first two Tour-level matches against Kvitova in 2008 and 2009 but had prevailed only once in six meetings since then before Sunday's 7-5 6-4 triumph. 

The two-time Indian Wells champion converted break-point chances when she needed them, six of 11 in all, and had 18 unforced errors to Kvitova's 26. 

"It was important to just stay there, really take my opportunities, not to let her," Azarenka said after taking down two-time Wimbledon winner Kvitova. "If she gets in the groove in couple points, not to kind of let her extend that streak, if you want to call it that.

"I was trying to still create opportunities for myself, be more aggressive, and honestly just believing also that what I'm doing is right and see how I can execute that. So intention was good. Execution followed after."

 

ANOTHER UPSET FOR SASNOVICH

After knocking off US Open champion Emma Raducanu in the second round, Sasnovich ushered out another grand slam winner in Halep 7-5 6-4 and will next face Azarenka.

The world number 100 had 22 winners to 16 for Halep and won 61.8 per cent of points on her serve as she reached the round of 16 at Indian Wells for the first time. 

In other matches Sunday, ninth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova fell to 23rd seed and US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez 5-7 6-3 6-4, while second seed Iga Swiatek dropped only one game in a 6-1 6-0 demolition of Veronika Kudermetova. 

Jelena Ostapenko and Shelby Rogers also advanced. 

Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic eased to a straight-sets win over Sara Sorribes Tormo to maintain her good form and book a place in the Ostrava Open quarter-finals.

Third seed Bencic needed just 88 minutes to see off her 36th-ranked opponent as she made it 15 victories from her past 18 matches.

Czech wildcard Tereza Martincova is also through to the last eight on home soil after battling past French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (8-6).

Martincova is into her fifth quarter-final of the season and will take on number four seed Maria Sakkari, who saw off Jelena Ostapenko 6-4 6-2 earlier on Thursday.

Also through to round three is Elena Rybakina following a hard-fought 6-3 2-6 6-1 win over qualifier Magda Linette, while Jil Teichmann – who shocked former world number one Angelique Kerber in the previous round – advanced in three sets against Alison Riske.

She will face Petra Kvitova for a place in the semi-finals. 

Crowd favourite Bianca Andreescu was made to work as she opened her defence of the National Bank Open title she won two years ago but the Canadian eventually prevailed in Montreal. 

Andreescu defeated Harriet Dart 6-1 3-6 6-3 in just over two hours in her first match since falling to Alize Cornet in the opening around at Wimbledon. 

That was the latest in a disappointing string of results for Andreescu, who also departed Roland Garros after one match, but the world number eight got back on track Tuesday. 

"Playing at home is so, so awesome," Andreescu said in her on-court interview. "You guys [the fans] show me so much love, especially tonight. I've never had this kind of support before, so I'm so, so grateful."

While Andreescu was able to navigate a challenging opener, three other seeded players were not as fortunate. 

Katerina Siniakova downed fifth seed Garbine Muguruza 6-2 0-6 6-3, while Camila Giorgi ousted ninth seed Elise Mertens 6-3 7-5 and Liudmila Samsonova defeated 12th seed Elena Rybakina 6-4 5-7 6-4.

Having a better time of it were seventh-seeded Petra Kvitova, the 2012 tournament champion, and number 10 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who won by identical 6-4 6-4 scorelines against Frenchwomen Fiona Ferro and Carolina Garcia, respectively. 

Eighth-seeded Victoria Azarenka waited out a rain delay to cruise past 2013 finalist Sorana Cirstea 6-2 6-2 in the final match of the day. 

In other action, 15th seed Coco Gauff handled Anastasija Sevastova 6-1 6-4 while her countrywoman Danielle Collins continued rolling after her title in San Jose last week, rallying past Jil Teichmann 4-6 6-1 6-3 for her 11th consecutive match win. 

Two more Americans, Sloane Stephens and Jessica Pegula, prevailed in three sets as well. 

Johanna Konta returned to the court after missing Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus-related issues and advanced when Zhang Shuai was forced to retire up 6-4 2-5 with a leg injury. 

Naomi Osaka was never preordained to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics but it had felt that way until she ran into Marketa Vondrousova.

The surprising 6-1 6-4 loss that a lacklustre Osaka suffered on Tuesday could be explained away by the fact the 23-year-old had not played any competitive tennis since pulling out of the French Open at the end of May.

All the same, it was a major upset as world number 42 Vondrousova took out the highest remaining seed in the draw – the Japanese star who lit the Olympic cauldron on Friday.

Osaka's exit, after previous shock defeats for top seed Ash Barty and number three Aryna Sabalenka, has raised the prospect of a shock champion, just as occurred five years ago at the Rio Games when Monica Puig of Puerto Rico caused a sensation.

Now at the quarter-final stage, there is one former grand slam champion left in the field and two finalists at that level, but it really looks like anyone's title.


VONDROUSOVA SENSES AN OPPORTUNITY

It was remarkably straightforward for Vondrousova at Ariake Tennis Park, as she cruised through the opening set and soon reeled in Osaka's early break in the second.

Osaka saved two match points when serving to stay in the contest, but not a third, planting a backhand wide.

Considering Vondrousova reached the French Open final two years ago, in front of packed grandstands rather than the empty seats in Tokyo, it was no surprise she hesitated when asked whether this win over Osaka was the biggest of her career. It probably doesn't have that cachet, good a win though it was.

"Of course it's one of the biggest," Vondrousova said.

"Naomi is a great player, she has so many grand slams, so I knew it would be a tough match. But I'm just very happy with my play. I played amazingly in the first set, and then the second set was really tough. I'm just happy to be through.

"I think she was struggling a bit with my serving. Also, I use drop-shots very well. I'm just very happy with my game today."

She faces Spain Paula Badosa next and said: "It's very open now. I think every girl is playing really well. Now it's the quarter-final, so we'll see."


HAS SVITOLINA'S TIME ARRIVED?

A fixture in the top 10 over recent seasons, Svitolina has been unable to transfer her regular tour form onto the major stage on a consistent basis.

Maybe the Olympics will be a platform towards success on that stage, with Svitolina now the highest seed remaining in the draw, at number four. The Ukrainian is also on a high on the personal front, having married French tennis star Gael Monfils shortly before heading to Tokyo.

Two semi-finals, at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2019, have been her deepest runs in the majors, and this season has been one of diminishing returns, with a fourth-round run in Australia followed by a third-round Roland Garros exit and a round-two loss at Wimbledon.

Svitolina beat Maria Sakkari of Greece 5-7 6-3 6-4 on Tuesday, setting up a quarter-final against Italian Camila Giorgi who won 6-4 6-2 against Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova.

"I don't think I'm a favourite because there are lots of good players here and everyone is quite equal," Svitolina said.


A MUG SHOT?

Should Spain's Garbine Muguruza be considered the favourite from this point? With French Open and Wimbledon titles in her trophy room, Muguruza has shown she has what it takes to triumph on a big stage, and a clinical 6-4 6-1 win over Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck on Tuesday was just the job.

She goes on to face Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who edged past Croatian Donna Vekic.

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland caused a surprise by ousting the in-form reigning French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, springing a 1-6 6-2 6-3 win that means there will be no repeat of the Roland Garros final in the quarter-finals.

That had been on the cards, but Bencic will be the player who takes on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a place in the final four.

Pavlyuchenkova scored an impressive 6-1 6-3 victory over Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, the player who knocked out Barty in round one.

Russian Olympic Committee's Pavyluchenkova is looking to harness the form that took her to a maiden slam final, describing her Paris run as "a great experience to have".

"But every week is a new week and this is a new event," said the 30-year-old. "The Olympic Games is a very special event. It's different. It's nothing like the others."

Nina Christen of Switzerland finished 16th in the 10-metre air rifle at the Rio Olympics, but she became a footnote to history five years later as the first athlete to secure a medal at Tokyo 2020.

The 27-year-old locked up the bronze medal several minutes before China's Yang Qian beat Anastasiia Galashina of the Russian Olympic Committee to take gold in the first medal event of the Games.

As soon as she was eliminated from contention for the final two, Christen flashed a smile and waved, knowing she had at least won a spot on the podium this time – no small feat on this stage.

After the first medal ceremony of the Tokyo Games, she spoke about the pressure as the competition entered the final rounds.

"You just try to not reach your head out for the medal before you have the medal," Christen said. "That is the worst thing you could do. Having in your mind, 'Oh I could win a medal, or I could be eighth which would be a failure'.

"So you just try not to think about both of them, you just try and think about what your job is like breathing, holding, aiming, balance, triggering, and then follow through.

"It helps to not think about what is behind you and obviously there are a lot of cameras and a lot of people. And it would be even more if COVID would not have hit. So yeah that is the thing you have to do, otherwise you would just crack."

 

Sixth seed Swiatek rolls in tennis opener

Two seeded players enjoyed easy victories in the women's singles draw as play began at the Ariake Tennis Park.

Sixth-seeded Iga Swiatek of Poland, the 2020 French Open champion, cruised past Germany's Mona Barthel 6-2 6-2 to open her first Olympics.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 11th seed representing the Russian Olympic Committee, had an even easier time in a 6-0 6-1 rout of Italy's Sara Errani.

Pavlyuchenkova will face Germany's Anna-Lena Friedsam, who upset Great Britain's Heather Watson 7-6 6-3 in another early match.

In doubles, there was an eye-catching result for Britain's Andy Murray and Joe Salisbury, who took out French second seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, scoring a 6-3 6-2 victory.

 

Men's gymnastics gets under way

Nikita Nagornyy turned in the strongest showing in the opening group as men's gymnastics got under way.

Nagornyy, who won the all-around at the 2019 World Championships and was part of Russia's silver medal-winning team at Rio 2016, posted an 87.897 to lead subdivision one, which included gymnasts from the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), China, Ukraine and Spain along with individuals from other nations.

But his showing was not enough to put the Russians on top, as China earned the top score in the group with a 262.061 to the ROC's 261.945. The top eight ranked teams qualify for the team final, with two subdivisions still to compete Saturday.

"I don't think our team was really good today, but we made our best effort," Nagronyy said. "We have a lot to do."

 

Brazilians start strongly on the beach

Brazil's two returning beach volleyball medallists are off to a strong start five years later.

Alison Cerutti won gold in Rio and is teamed with new partner Alvaro Morais Filho for Tokyo. They won their opening match 2-0 against Argentina's Nicolas Capogrosso and Julian Amado Azaad.

On the women's side, Rio silver medallist Agatha Bednarczuk, also with a new partner in Eduarda Santos Lisboa, won by the same score against Ana Gallay and Fernanda Pereyra of Argentina.

While she was happy to advance, Agatha found the difference between Rio's raucous crowds and Tokyo's COVID-driven quiet jarring.

"It's so different. In Brazil we have the biggest support there. Many, many people cheering for us, and here, it's silence," she said.

"Here we need to put our emotion (aside) because we don't receive the emotion from the people. For me, this is very important because I like to play with emotions."

A look to the sky, a wide smile, and a kiss. I did it, Jana. We did it.

Barbora Krejcikova is a grand slam singles champion, barely eight months after she first cracked the world's top 100, and the first instinct is to suggest this will be a one-off.

Ladies and gentlemen, a pandemic champion, an asterisk champion.

Jana Novotna, her former coach and mentor, who died in November 2017, won just one singles slam too, but she was a long-time force in the women's game. Indeed, Krejcikova left no doubt about her influence on Saturday's success.

But for those doubting Krejcikova's credentials, a little pause for thought.

Novotna won 14 of her 16 grand slam doubles titles before landing that elusive singles crown in 1998 at Wimbledon, and Krejcikova landed five doubles majors ahead of her own remarkable singles breakthrough.

Martina Navratilova, who handed Krejcikova the trophy, also won doubles titles at the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open before she ever landed a singles major.

This is, to some extent, a well-worn path by Czech players. So there is more nuance here. And stuff first instincts. Perhaps, like Novotna and Navratilova before her, this Czech player might he here to stay at the highest level.

The 25-year-old from Brno has joined the ranks of those few champions who have won grand slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles, and she will be up to 15th in the WTA rankings on Monday.

Krejcikova might be back at number one in the doubles rankings too, as she and partner Katerina Siniakova have a Roland Garros final on Sunday against Iga Swiatek – last year's singles champion – and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Win that, and Krejcikova will be on top of the world once more in the discipline where she has honed the tools that brought her glory at Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's expense in what proved a thoroughly absorbing singles final.

The slices, the drop shots, the lobs and the net approaches, and the double-handed backhand that flits between being weapon and weakness: all those shots were honed in doubles, mostly alongside Siniakova.

Krejcikova spoke at the trophy presentation of her giddy amazement that Justine Henin, the four-time French Open winner, knew who she was when they bumped into each other behind the scenes in Paris.

Navratilova chipped in.

"In 2014, when you found out Jana moved back to Brno, you had the courage to go knock on her door and ask her for help. What gave you that courage?" asked the player who won 59 majors, including 18 singles slams.

Krejcikova's reply? "My mum."

Bravo Mrs Krejcikova.

Krejcikova has spoken often about Novotna but here she opened up to explain how she had spent so much time with the great champion before her death.

Novotna had kept news of her cancer out of the public consciousness, but Krejcikova not only knew, she felt she owed her driving force to stay by her side throughout the illness.

"I was going through a really hard time when Jana was passing away," Krejcikova told the crowd.

"I was most of the time with her and I really wanted to experience this, because I thought this was going to make me really strong.

"And pretty much her last words were just, 'Enjoy and just try to win a grand slam'.

"I know that from somewhere she's looking after me and all of this, this two weeks, is pretty much because she's looking after me from up there.

"I just want to thank her. It was amazing I had a chance to meet her and she was such an inspiration to me. I just really miss her. I hope she's happy right now. I'm extremely happy."

Three mixed doubles titles – one with Nikola Mektic and two with Rajeev Ram – plus two women's doubles with Siniakova, and now a singles triumph.

Except we know Krejcikova does not feel alone on the court. She senses Novotna's guiding hand. This is a doubles partnership dressed up as a singles player.

Novotna, weeks after winning Wimbledon, her destiny ever since she wept on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent after losing to Steffi Graf in the 1993 final, shed some light on what it meant for her.

"I felt enormous relief and I felt that now it seems like this would be a new beginning for me," Novotna said.

This is a new beginning for Krejcikova too. Never a factor in singles previously, she has properly arrived now. Like you always had to with Novotna, watch out for her at Wimbledon.

Barbora Krejcikova paid another emotional tribute to her late mentor Jana Novotna after winning her maiden grand slam singles title at the French Open on Saturday.

The unseeded Krejcikova beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 2-6 6-4 in the battle of two first-time major singles finalists on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Krejcikova said her former coach and compatriot Novotna, who died from cancer aged 49 in November 2017, was always in her thoughts as she embarked on a surprise, glorious run at Roland Garros.

The 25-year-old pointed to the sky as she delivered a poignant tribute to Novotna after becoming the first Czech woman to win the title in Paris since Hana Mandlikova in 1981. 

She said of the 1998 Wimbledon champion: "I was going through a really hard time when Jana passed away, I was with her most of the time. Her last words were pretty much 'just enjoy it and try to win a grand slam."

Krejcikova added: "I know from somewhere she is looking after me and all this what happened in the last two weeks is pretty much because she is looking after me from up there.

"It is amazing I had the chance to meet her and she was an inspiration. I hope she is really happy and I am extremely happy."

Ranked 114 when the WTA Tour returned last August following a coronavirus-enforced shutdown, the surprise package is the sixth consecutive maiden major champion to be crowned at the French Open.

Krejcikova, a winner of five grand slam doubles titles with another up for grabs on Sunday, was pinching herself after lifting the Suzanne Lenglen Cup.

"I want to thank all of them - my coach, my physio, my friends and everyone back home. My family, my mum and dad, my brothers, my niece and nephew. It's nice to see everyone," she said.

"It is hard to put into words because I cannot believe what just happened. I cannot believe I actually won a grand slam."

Barbora Krejcikova came out on top in an almighty French Open battle with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win her maiden grand slams singles title.

The unseeded Krejcikova dominated the opening set but had to fend off a Pavlyuchenkova fightback to win 6-1 2-6 6-4 at Roland Garros on Saturday.

Making only her fifth appearance in a main singles draw at a major compared to her Russian opponent's 52nd, Krejcikova added a first grand slam singles title to her five doubles triumphs.

Krejcikova broke twice in a tense final set in the battle between two first-time major singles finalists on Court Philippe-Chatrier, becoming the first Czech woman to win the title in Paris since Hana Mandlikova in 1981. 

Pavlyuchenkova won the opening point with a measured forehand winner, with Krejcikova looking understandably nervy as she was broken in the first game but she soon warmed to the task.

The 25-year-old took command on a humid afternoon, dictating rally after rally in composed fashion with precise groundstrokes off both wings and deft drop shots.

Krejcikova returned superbly and had a 5-1 lead when a Pavlyuchenkova forehand looped out before coming from 0-30 down to wrap up a one-sided opening set in only 31 minutes.

Pavlyuchenkova, four years older than her opponent, finally held after fending off a break point in the first game of the second set and went 2-0 up with a rasping backhand winner down the line following a sublime drop shot.

A thunderous, deep Pavlyuchenkova return enabled her to move a game away from levelling the match but she had to take a medical timeout when leading 5-2 following a Krejcikova break.

The 31st seed returned to the court with strapping on her left thigh and broke again to take the second set, but a double fault gifted Krejcikova an early break in the decider.

Pavlyuchenkova hit straight back, letting out a roar after a brilliant cross-court forehand to make it 2-2, only for Krejcikova to secure a break to love for a 4-3 lead with a forehand winner.

The battling Pavlyuchenkova did not appear to be moving as freely but saved two match points to stay alive before Krejcikova served out the match, raising her arms aloft after her opponent sent a forehand long.

Barbora Krejcikova insists she belongs at the highest level of women's tennis as the surprise singles finalist attempts to achieve a French Open feat last accomplished 21 years ago.

France's own Mary Pierce was the most recent player to clinch singles and doubles titles in the same year at Roland Garros, beating Conchita Martinez in the 2000 singles final and teaming up with Martina Hingis to make it a twin trophy success.

On Saturday, Krejcikova can complete the first leg of her weekend's objective as she battles to become only the second woman playing under a Czech flag to triumph in singles at the Paris clay-court grand slam in the Open Era, after Hana Mandlikova's 1981 victory.

Martina Navratilova won the French Open title twice, in 1982 and 1984, but by that stage she was representing the United States, having previously been a runner-up for Czechoslovakia in 1975.

A world-class doubles star, Krejcikova has rocketed up the singles rankings in the past 18 months, having ended 2019 at 135th on the WTA list. Now up to a career-high 33rd, victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Court Philippe Chatrier would lift her to 15th.

Speaking on Friday, Krejcikova suggested the pandemic, and the enforced deceleration of the tennis tours, had given her the time to mix up her singles and doubles schedules when previously her diary was overly packed.

The 25-year-old had been playing lower-tier ITF singles events but main-tour WTA doubles, and it had been a difficult juggling act.

"I hope there will be no more ITFs in singles for me," Krejcikova said. "I want to stay on this level. I want to really work hard just to stay here, to be able to play such matches like this. It was really tough playing ITFs because the schedule, the WTA in doubles, the schedule was tough. It was tight.

"Sometimes we played well, then I missed the tournament, then I wasn't ready to play. It was difficult. But I really think that the pandemic really helped me.

"Right now I just want to keep the level. I don't want to go backwards."

Should she and Katerina Siniakova win the doubles on Sunday, when last year's singles champion Iga Swiatek and American Bethanie Mattek-Sands should provide tough opposition, it would mean Krejcikova goes back to number one in those rankings.

Krejcikova has a 14-3 singles record on clay this season, with only two WTA players winning more matches on the surface (Paula Badosa 17-3, Coco Gauff 16-4)

She will hope to become just the third unseeded women's singles champion in French Open history, after Swiatek (2020) and Jelena Ostapenko (2017).

After teaming up with Siniakova to scuttle Magda Linette and Bernarda Perra 6-1 6-2 in their doubles semi-final on Friday, Krejcikova said: "I hope we saved some power for the finals.

"I'm looking forward that I'm going to play two more times on Chatrier. It's always perfect to play this court because it's a beautiful court. I think it's going to be a lot of fun playing these two finals."

Pavlyuchenkova is three weeks away from turning 30 and would become the third-oldest first-time grand slam winner on the women's tour, after Flavia Pennetta (33 years 200 days, 2015 US Open) and Ann Jones (30 years 261 days, 1969 Wimbledon).

She would also become the oldest Russian woman to win a singles major, taking that statistic away from Maria Sharapova who was 27 when she scooped her fifth and final slam in 2014 at Roland Garros.

Sitting 32nd in the rankings, she would jump to 14th by taking the title but is guaranteed to jump back into the top 20, for the first time since January 2018.

Pavlyuchenkova banished her grand slam quarter-final jinx this week, having lost all six of her previous last-eight singles matches at that stage in grand slams, including a 2011 loss to Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros. She will hope her first trek beyond the quarters is not her last.

"It's been a long road. It's been a lot of ups and downs. It's been a tough one," said Pavlyuchenkova, who is playing in her 52nd grand slam.

"I definitely didn't expect this year being in the final. I guess you can't expect those things. I was just there working hard, doing everything possible. I just said to myself, 'You know what, this year let's do whatever it takes, anything you can do to improve your game, your mentality'.

"I started working with a sports psychologist, everything. I wanted to give it a try so I have no regrets after. That's it."

One thing is for sure: a new grand slam champion is about to be crowned, and Paris is used to that. The past five Roland Garros champions have all been new to the slam-winning experience, with Garbine Muguruza's maiden major in 2016 followed by breakthroughs for Ostapenko, Simona Halep, Ash Barty and Swiatek.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova conceded a younger version of herself would have been bemused by why it had taken so long to reach a grand slam final after she finally did so at the French Open on Thursday.

The 29-year-old turned her first major semi-final appearance into a maiden final berth with a 7-5 6-3 victory over Tamara Zidansek in Paris.

It will be Pavlyuchenkova's first outing in a grand slam final in what is her 52nd major, which establishes an Open Era record. She has become the first woman to play more than 50 majors before reaching a final.

Asked what her 14-year-old self would have said if she had known the wait would be so long, the Russian replied: "Fourteen-year-old me would tell me, like, what took you so long?

"It's tough to really talk about it right now. I don't know. It's been a long road. I had my own long special road. Everybody has different ways. I'm just happy I'm in the final.

"This is something I've been thinking about every single time. I think as tennis players, that's the only goal I think we have in the head. That's why we are playing tennis.

"That's for us the biggest achievement you can get. That's what you are playing for, of course. I think about it all the time.

"I've been thinking about it since I was a junior, since I was a little kid, since I started playing tennis. It's been there in my head forever."

Pavlyuchenkova had six quarter-final singles losses to her name in slams before this tournament, a record that suggested a career of near-misses might be on the cards.

Curiously, she has also reached six doubles quarter-finals in the majors and also failed to win through any of those.

She now has a chance to end her long wait for a major title this weekend at Roland Garros, but admits she has had worries along the way.

"I had a lot of doubts. I could beat top-10 players and make the quarter-final of a major. I was very close to semi-finals a couple of times, but then it wouldn't happen," she said.

"It was just up and down in terms of results. But I feel like I'm there, I can beat those players, but the consistency is off, something is always off.

"Those little puzzles were not coming together every time. I guess maybe I had a lot of expectations that I couldn't deal with over the years. It's been a lot of different things."

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova turned her first grand slam semi-final appearance into a ticket to the final thanks to a 7-5 6-3 victory over Tamara Zidansek at the French Open.

The Russian had already broken new ground by ending a run of six consecutive quarter-final losses in slams, with the 29-year-old now set to face Barbora Krejcikova or Maria Sakkari in the showpiece.

She certainly did not have it all her own way against surprise package Zidansek – another slam semi-final debutant – on Court Philippe Chatrier, having been broken in the opening game to suggest perhaps a hint of nerves.

But Pavlyuchenkova, who at 29 is six years older than her opponent, drew on all her experience to finish the job in straight sets and remain on course for a career-defining success in Paris.

A hold to love in game three of the first set seemed to put Pavlyuchenkova at ease as she began to find her range, which showed as the number 31 seed became increasingly aggressive in her approach.

The path to a one-set lead was still dotted with stumbles as there were five breaks of serve between the players, the last of which sealed it at 7-5 in Pavlyuchenkova's favour.

At 4-1 up in the second set she appeared to be coasting, before losing six points and two games on the bounce.

But again Pavlyuchenkova dug deep to find another level and finally send her Slovenian rival packing.

Data Slam: Second serves stifle Zidansek

In a match where both players looked vulnerable on serve at times, the disparity in points won on second serve proved telling.

While Pavlyuchenkova showed cunning and variety to mix things up, winning 54 per cent of the points on her second serve, Zidansek could only manage 38 per cent and was broken six times.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Pavlyuchenkova – 19/22
Zidansek – 27/33

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Pavlyuchenkova – 3/3
Zidansek – 1/3

BREAK POINTS WON

Pavlyuchenkova– 6/10
Zidansek – 4/11

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova fought back to win a pulsating French Open battle with her doubles partner Elena Rybakina and reach an elusive first grand slam semi-final.

A decade after playing in the last eight of a major for the first time at Roland Garros, Pavlyuchenkova finally broke new ground with a hard-fought 6-7 (2-7) 6-2 9-7 victory on Tuesday.

The 29-year-old had lost six grand slam singles quarter-finals but the 31st seed will do battle with surprise package Tamara Zidansek for a place in the championship match in Paris.

Rybakina beat the great Serena Williams to reach the last eight and gave another demonstration of her huge promise, but made 43 unforced errors in an entertaining contest that took two hours and 33 minutes to settle on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

After Kazakh Rybakina claimed the first break for a 3-1 first-set lead with clean striking off both wings, Pavlyuchenkova took a more aggressive approach and that paid off when she got back on serve at 4-3.

Rybakina, the 21st seed, took that setback in her stride, storming into a 5-0 lead after a tactical first-set battle was taken to a tie-break, which ended with Pavlyuchenkova putting a backhand into the net.

Pavlyuchenkova appeared to have missed out on a fourth chance to break in a long sixth game of the second set when she slipped, but looked up while she was sitting on the clay to discover Rybakina had made a mess of a simple smash.

The 29-year-old broke again to wrap up the set and maintained her momentum in the decider, charging into a 2-0 lead - with her backhand firing.

They were back on serve at 4-4 with the nerves jangling following four breaks in five games, both players looking understandably tense but still producing some high-quality tennis.

It was Pavlyuchenkova who claimed the decisive fifth break of a long final set to advance, earning a match point with a rasping forehand winner before her young opponent double-faulted.

 

Data Slam: A half-century to remember for Pavlyuchenkova

Pavlyuchenkova is making her 50th grand slam main draw appearance and she has marked it with her best run. More proof that persistence pays off.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Pavlyuchenkova – 44/28
Rybakina – 46/43

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Pavlyuchenkova – 5/2
Rybakina – 5/6

BREAK POINTS WON

Pavlyuchenkova– 6/17
Rybakina – 3/7

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