PARIS (Reuters) - Lucie Safarova became the first Czech woman in 34 years to reach the French Open final after she fought back to topple 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic 7-5 7-5 on Thursday.
Just when it looked as if her title aspirations were floundering, the 13th seed shook off her jitters and unleashed her A Game to pummel Ivanovic into submission.
“It’s a dream come true, I still cannot believe it. The happiness is unreal,” said a jubilant Safarova, who will be aiming to become the first Czech to lift the Suzanne Lenglen trophy since Hana Mandlikova in 1981.
With his girlfriend Ivanovic looking unstoppable at 5-2 up in the first set, Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger held up two clenched fists to his face before swinging out his right arm to deliver a knock out punch.
The message from the players’ box on Philippe Chatrier Court was clear for all to see -- it was just too bad for Ivanovic that Safarova decided to steal the idea.
The left-handed forehand that had looked rather ordinary during the first seven games suddenly caught fire, helping Safarova to win 20 of the last 26 points in the first set.
Ivanovic’s celebratory cries of “hajde”, Serbian for ‘come on’, that had often reverberated around the arena during the first 30 minutes of the contest dried up as Safarova pocketed the first set when the seventh seed slapped a service return long.
However, for a player who was looking to reach her first grand slam final, keeping her nerves in check proved to be a task easier said than done.
After breaking in the third game of the second set, it seemed nothing could stop Safarova from setting up a final date with Serena Williams when she went up to serve for the match at 5-4.
The occasion, however, turned Safarova’s legs to jelly as first she gifted a break point with a double fault, and having survived that wobble, she then surrendered match point with another pair of misfired serves.
The dramatic nine-minute game featured a matchpoint, two double faults and four break points before Ivanovic finally struck to level at 5-5 when Safarova’s netcord bounced wide into the tramlines.
But Safarova was determined not to let the golden opportunity slip through her sweaty fingers on the hottest day of the championships and two games later, her bare upper back was caked in red clay as she marked her triumph with a celebratory roll.
“When I realized that I could be in the final, I got tense... I was overthinking and couldn’t really concentrate,” she said. “But when I lost the serve I shook it off and played aggressive again.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Toby Davis