She had to beat the No. 1, 2 and 3 players in the world to win the title and she did it.
Despite being unseeded and ranked 30 in the world these days, Barbora Krejčíková won the WTA 1000 in Dubai.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is the final leg of the Desert trio. The swing kicked off with a WTA 500, the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, where Belinda Bencic won a long final over Liudmila Samsonova. In between was another 500 event, the Qatar Totalenergies Open, held in Doha. Iga Świątek defeated Jessica Pegula for the title with the loss of only three games.
No doubt Świątek was looking for a Desert Double when she arrived in Dubai.
She certainly had an easy run to the final. As top seed, she had a bye in the first round, then a surprisingly easy win over Leylah Fernandez, who earned just two games.
Next she toppled 14th seed Samsonova, who managed only one game.
In her quarter final Świątek received a walkover from Karolína Plíšková. This meant she reached the semis having been on court for just two hours and 28 minutes.
Coco Gauff gave her more of a work out, with Świątek needing five set points to take the first set 6-4. She took the second set 6-2 and stayed on court to cut the cake for the celebration of 50 years of the WTA.
In contrast, Krejčíková reached the final having played 13 sets to Świątek’s six. She was also pushed by her opponents in some matches.
She had a straight sets win over Irina-Camelia Begu in the first round, before a 155 minute match against 7th seed Daria Kasatkina. It was a match so tight that both players won 107 points. Krejčíková managed to prevail 6-4 4-6 7-5.
Her next opponent was fellow Czech Petra Kvitová, seeded 12, in their first meeting.
Krejčíková raced out to a 4-0 lead and took the first set 6-3. The second, she won 6-2. Her 13 forehand winners allowed her to dominate her compatriot.
After the match, Krejčíková paid tribute to her role model Kvitová.
“When I was growing up she was practising in the same club and she was already a Grand Slam champion, so I was just really looking up to her, trying to get where she was and it’s a really big win.”
For her quarter final, she faced current Australian Open champion and world No. 2, Aryna Sabalenka. It did not start well for Krejčíková. She lost the first set to love and went down 1-3 in the second.
Somehow she clawed her way back to 6-6. In the tiebreak, consecutive double faults and two unforced errors from Sabalenka gave Krejčíková a 6-1 lead. She took the set 7-6(2).
The third set saw Krejčíková serve for the match leading 5-1. But Sabalenka whacked winners to the lines and Krejčíková needed three match points to claim her place in the semis.
In what was Sabalenka’s first loss of the year, she’d hit seven more aces, the same number of points won on serve and the same amount of double faults, six fewer unforced errors and won one more break point, but lost.
Afterwards, Krejčíková said, “I’m never going to leave without a fight in any match that I’m playing in, any score. The Czech fans really helped.”
The world No. 3 Jessica Pegula waited in the semi to meet Krejčíková, who sped away with the first set 6-1.
Then Pegula got going. It took five deuces for Krejčíková to hold serve for 1-1 before she slid behind 3-5. Then she was broken to love as she double faulted on set point.
Pegula got the 7-5 set with assistance from her opponent’s 32 unforced errors to her own nine.
After Krejčíková returned from changing her outfit, chair umpire Marija Cicak gently reminded her of the 25 second limit between points and said she would have to warn her next time she took longer.
Krejčíková replied that she was not deliberately missing her ball toss to delay play. Cicak explained that if she missed her toss five times within the 25 seconds, there would be no problem but if she went over that time again she would be penalised.
It seemed that this exchange spurred Krejčíková on. She broke emphatically to love and gave the umpire a stare as she walked to her chair. She went on to seize the third set 6-0, firing winners all over the court.
She had to believe now that she had a real chance to overcome Świątek in her second final in Dubai.
The Czech had a great run in 2021, making the final, won by Garbiñe Muguruza, before winning her first singles slam at Roland Garros.
Świątek had not been well in the latter part of the tournament, coughing and blowing her nose regularly. She was probably not feeling her best on the final day.
But the story of the final was Krejčíková’s return of serve. Her variety on the shot gave her so many options that Świątek struggled to read it.
Aside from her ball toss problem reappearing to rob her of a service game at 3-2, she also served well. She broke to love for 5-4 and then held to clinch the first set.
In the second set, Świątek couldn’t take advantage of early break points but Krejčíková broke for 3-2 with a wonderful backhand return cross court.
She got to 5-2 with a perfect lob onto the baseline and then served it out for the championship.
Świątek had accrued only 10 winners to 27 unforced errors, while the champion had 23 winners and won five of six break points.
The players spoke warmly at the net and Krejčíková finished by telling Świątek, “I have so much respect for you.”