Lucie Šafářová faces match of career at French Open final

Lucie Šafářová, foto: ČTK

Czech tennis player Lucie Šafářová faces the match of her life on Saturday when she plays in the French Open singles finals, the first singles Grand Slam contest of her long career. She got there in a tense, roller coaster match, which testified to her staying power and march up the rankings under her Canadian coach.

Lucie Šafářová, photo: CTK
Lucie Šafářová is probably the name on most Czech lips today after winning her way to her first Grand Slam singles final on the baking Paris clay on Thursday afternoon and she’s still in with a chance of making it to the women’s doubles finals as well.

Šafářová showed true grit to come back from 2:5 down in the first set against seventh seeded Serb Ana Ivanovic to eventually win the set 7:5. But tension on the verge of qualifying for the French Open final clearly gripped the 28-year old when she served with her first match point at 5:4 in the second set. She eventually lost the game but battled back to break serve again and serve out for 7:5 again in the second set.

This is how she described her performance in the post match press conference: “In the second set, yes, I think when I realised that I could finally be in the finals I got a little bit tense there. In the game at 5:4, I was really over thinking and couldn't concentrate to be there in the moment and my serve wasn’t working. It was a little bit fighting with everything on the court at that moment. But when I lost the service I sort of shook it off and started to play aggressive again and then served it out.”

The win produced a tsunami of tweets and congratulations for a player who is widely seen as one of the most popular on the women’s circuit. The final is also seen as a pay-off for a player whose talent was recognised early on but who was seen as brittle and prone to inconsistency during her past 12 years as a top tennis professional. In recent years, she has been overshadowed by double Wimbledon singles winner and fellow left hander Petra Kvitová.

Ana Ivanovic, photo: CTK
A lot of the credit for Šafářová’s improvement goes to her Canadian coach, Rob Steckley, with whom she teamed up with at the end of 2013. The informal and energetic Steckley has a reputation for dramatically improving the performance of his charges and pushing them up the rankings. He has helped take the Czech from around 30 in the singles rankings two years ago to 13 now and the likelihood that Šafářová will get into the top 10 on the basis of her Paris run.

Šafářová paid tribute to her coach on Thursday: “I think he helped me a lot. He is a big part of this and I am thankful that I can work with him because it has been a long way and a lot of hours on court. I have been on tour, it is my 12th year, and to reach this finally… I think you appreciate it more I think.”

Šafářová though faces a mountain in the form of number one seed Serena Williams on Saturday, a player whom the Czech has lost to eight times without a win to her credit. But Williams has been out of sorts and dropped a lot of sets at Paris so far and that could provide a glimmer of hope.