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Beginner’s Guide: Unseeded Karolina Muchova plots career renaissance after injury lay-off
The creative Czech star has already achieved much at majors despite multiple injuries, and has a chance for an upset over Simona Halep at Wimbledon on Tuesday.
Published Jun 28, 2022
So snakebitten is Karolina Muchova that her forthcoming Wimbledon appearance is a comeback within a comeback: the former world No. 19 was just easing back into tour life from an abdominal/back injury when a twisted ankle forced her to retire from Roland Garros.
Despite those physical struggles, Muchova remains one of the most naturally talented athletes in women’s tennis, and playing on her most comfortable surface can pay dividends as she aims to rebuild her career in earnest.
Get to know the two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist as she prepares to face 2019 champion Simona Halep:
With her smooth swings and all-court style, there’s something decidedly throwback about Muchova, who burst onto the scene at the 2018 US Open. Playing late into the night on Louis Armstrong Stadium, she stunned Garbiñe Muguruza in three sets as a qualifier en route to the third round, and though she would soon bow out to future No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, it was clear the Czechs had found their next big star.
A runner-up finish on clay in Prague helped her crack the Top 100 the following spring, but it would be on grass where her game truly came alive. Facing countrywoman Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon, she rallied from a break down in the third to win one of the last extended-set matches, 4-6, 7-5, 13-11—nearly triggering the tiebreak meant to occur at 12-12—and reach her maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal.
WATCH: Muchova went 7-1 against Top 20 opposition in 2021, losing just once via retirement.
Following the COVID-19 lockdown, she again reached the last eight at a major, this time against Barty, who had since risen atop the WTA rankings. From a set and a break down, Muchova pulled off the upset of the tournament to reach the semis, where she endured a narrow defeat to Jennifer Brady.
With another Wimbledon quarterfinal to come six months later, Muchova looked on the precipice of major glory, only for injuries to arise.
After a first-round US Open defeat to Sara Sorribes Tormo, the 25-year-old would miss the next seven months due to a complicated abdominal injury that proved tricky to conquer.
“It was all connected to the belly, to the abdominal issue,” she explained last month. “I don't really want to talk about it. I want to leave it in the past, you know, but I'm still rehabilitating and I have to do daily exercises for the back and for the belly to keep myself fit and just like to be ready, to not get that injury back, so I have to exercise every day. To prevent.
“Thank you,” concluded the notoriously blunt Muchova.
Though Roland Garros was only the fourth tournament of her comeback, she was already gaining momentum. Two tiebreakers helped her knock out 2021 semifinalist Maria Sakkari and a third put her a set up on Amanda Anisimova in the third round.
As the American was mounting a comeback, a tough fall caused the Czech to roll her ankle and retire in the final set. In her one match since that latest injury, she took a straight-set defeat to Ons Jabeur, whose own endless variety has filled Muchova’s niche in her absence.
“I can't be too hard on myself,” she’d said in Paris, “because I think I need more matches to get the experience again and to get in a rhythm and as well for my body to get used to this kind of routines and stuff and my head as well in the matches.”
Why It Matters
Muchova may be coming to SW19 under the radar, but provided she’s feeling fit, she has a big opportunity to upset Halep in her first Wimbledon match since winning the title in 2019. Where Muchova’s game is an obvious fit for grass, Halep had only just begun to adjust her game to the low-bouncing surface, having long preferred clay and hard courts.
In the three years since she shocked Serena Williams for her second major title, Halep has endured her own upheavals, including multiple injuries and a split from longtime coach Darren Cahill. Though she has formed a strong bond with Patrick Mouratoglou in the last eight weeks, her results have yet to reach the level she enjoyed as a former world No. 1.
Taking on Halep while the surface is still slick, Muchova could easily serve and volley her way to victory, but in her own words, this week will be another stepping stone towards her comeback.
“I'm still getting to the level of my fitness where I was,” she said. “But, yeah, trying to do what I can with my team. I'm still surrounded by the same people, we're working as we started before my injury, so I'm getting there.”