Former ASU women's tennis player continues remarkable rise, reaching French Open final

Desirae Krawczyk reached her first Grand Slam final after beginning her career losing money with each tournament she played

This month, at 26 years old, former ASU tennis star Desirae Krawczyk reached the final of the French Open with her partner Alexa Guarachi and achieved a career-high ranking of world No. 25 in women's doubles, marking a new apex in her long and improbable journey toward the top of her sport. 

Eight years ago, Krawczyk arrived at ASU as a five-star recruit who ASU women’s tennis coach Sheila McInerney said stood out for her “spunk,” competitive nature, “world-class backhand” and obvious upside. 

“Her serve wasn't very strong, but you knew that could get a lot better, because she’s a lefty,” McInerney said. “Her forehand was always sort of her weakness, mentally as much as anything. We felt she could get a lot better.”

Krawczyk did just that in her time at ASU, rising to the No. 1 position on the team in both singles and doubles, where she posted career records of 97-43 and 75-31, respectively. 

Most notable, McInerney said, was Krawczyk’s improvement in doubles, where she was an “excellent teammate” who consistently brought out the best in whoever her partner was. 

“When she first started, her doubles probably wasn’t her strength,” McInerney said. “She was a little bit afraid of the net. But, she learned to look to be aggressive.”

After four highly successful college years, Krawczyk began a career in professional tennis in 2016 on the lower levels of the circuit, where the travel is extensive, the schedule is packed and the pay is minimal.  

“I started at the bottom,” Krawczyk said via email. “Playing the lowest ITF events, where you knew you were going to be losing money.”

To give an example: In September 2016, Krawczyk traveled to Portugal to take part in an ITF doubles tournament. She won three matches, reached the final and took home a grand total of $172. 

“(You just hoped) to earn points to help your ranking to get into higher events with more points and (hopefully) break even,” Krawczyk said.

At that time, she was also playing singles consistently. But in September 2017, Krawczyk played her last singles event on tour to date and decided to play doubles full-time. 

In subsequent years, Krawczyk’s success in doubles has risen meteorically. After ending at world No. 700 in 2016, she finished 2017 at No. 143, 2018 at No. 67 and 2019 at No. 37.

“I worked my way up each year and continued to progress,” Krawczyk said. “First, it was getting into the WTA events. Then, (it was) winning a couple rounds here and there, and then getting into Grand Slams and believing I belong there.”

Although Krawczyk had already established she “belonged” over those years, she had never reached a major quarterfinal before this year’s French Open.

In fact, just a few weeks before heading to Paris, she and Guarachi fell in the first round of the U.S. Open.

“We were extremely bummed (to lose so early),” Guarachi said. “We just didn't play well. We kind of overlooked the team that we were going to play.”

That team, the unseeded pair of Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva, went on to win the title, an outcome that Guarachi said helped build her and Krawczyk’s confidence. 

“We were kind of like, ‘Wow, okay, we actually didn't play as bad as we thought,” Guarachi said. “If those girls can win the U.S. Open, we can go deep in slams.”

The duo’s confidence continued to build when they kicked off the clay court season the following week by winning a tournament in Istanbul, an impressive result for a team that only began to consistently play together in August. 

“Being friends and having that bond definitely helps (us as) a team gel together,” Krawczyk said.  

Guarachi attributed the duo's immediate success to their aggressive style of play, their lefty-righty combination and Krawczyk’s attitude on the court.  

“She's always really confident,” Guarachi said. “She leads me a lot, as far as calling plays and stuff like that. She's really good at reading the court and reading the other players and their strengths and weaknesses, and I always know that she’s going to fight really hard.”

As the two of them marched their way through the French Open, that confidence and synergy continued to build.

“Every match we played, we believed in ourselves a little bit more, and we went out swinging because we told ourselves we didn’t want to walk off that court questioning whether we gave it our all,” Krawczyk said. 

That reached a new apex when the pair knocked off Su-Wei Hsieh and Barbora Strycova, the top two doubles players in the world, in the third round. Both Krawczyk and Guarachi said they approached that match as if they “had nothing to lose.”

After winning two more matches, they ultimately fell 6-4, 7-5 in the final to defending champions Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic

Despite the loss, Krawczyk became the first American woman who played NCAA tennis to reach a Grand Slam doubles final since Lisa Raymond in 2011.

“It helps college tennis, because a lot of times the kids think, ‘Well, if you go to college, that means you've sort of given up on your pro career,’” McInerney said. “I think the kids are finding that that's not true now.”

Despite having just achieved the peak of her tennis career, Krawczyk said the French Open run makes her “eager to do even better.” Although that competitive spirit has helped propel Krawczyk to this level, McInerney said she still has to remember to “smell the flowers along the way.” 

“She's 26 years old, traveling the world, playing all the Grand Slams, sharing locker rooms and player lounges with (Roger) Federer, (Rafael) Nadal and the Williams sisters (Serena and Venus),” McInerney said. “Enjoy it, because none of this is easy.”


Reach the reporter at cbreber@asu.edu and follow @carsobi on Twitter.

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