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Barbora Krejcikova vs. Maria Sakkari was tennis at its dramatic best.

How do you win a Grand Slam semifinal you think you’ve already won? Barbora Krejcikova can tell you. 

But that’s a discussion for another day, or year. Today center stage belonged to the Czech and the Greek. Neither had played a major singles semifinal before, and it showed. Over three hours and 18 minutes, they grabbed leads and gave them back, played brilliantly for stretches and poorly for others, overhit on some big points and were too tentative on others. Together they made 111 unforced errors and hit 58 winners, and had more double faults than aces. But none of those numbers mattered. What mattered was how their nerves, and the courage they showed trying to overcome them, flowed from one side of the net to the other over the course of a long afternoon, as these two women tried to do something they had never done, and may never have believed they would do—reach a Grand Slam singles final.

“I actually think we both deserve to win because we play really, really great match,” Krejcikova said. “But only one can win. I’m really happy that it’s me, that I’m going to have another chance to play another match. I think the match was really up and down. I just told myself, ‘Just fight, fight, fight until the last point. I’m happy that I was really fighting.”

The rallies, many of them long and complex, pitted Krejcikova’s smooth, varied shotmaking—she changed directions and spins constantly—against Sakkari’s hard, straight-ahead hitting. Personality-wise, it pitted Krejcikova’s expressionless calm against Sakkari’s fiery relentlessness.

The difference in the end was Sakkari’s inability to find the right mix of aggression and margin in the latter stages, when the match was on the line. Her game is to press and attack, but when she served for the match, she pressed a little too hard and made four errors. Then, with Krejcikova serving at 4-5, Sakkari went in the other direction and didn’t press hard enough.

“I have to be deadly honest,” Sakkari said. “I got stressed, started thinking that I’m a point away from being in the final. I guess it’s a rookie mistake…Got a little bit more passive on my game. Yeah, didn’t go for it. I just didn’t play offensive. I was a little bit defensive, especially in the big points. I couldn’t find a way to break her after five-all.

“I think it’s human emotions, but I think I’ll learn from it.”

And that’s what this anxious epic was about, and what all great matches are about: human emotions. Krejcikova-Sakkari was far from perfect, but it was tennis at its dramatic best.

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