PRESS CONFERENCE: Karolina Muchova after her semifinal shocker

I think it’s very good, and it can be a curse as well for the fact when I choose the wrong option … But I’m glad that I have, I wouldn’t call it a problem, but it’s a good problem to have. Karolina Muchova, following her win over Aryna Sabalenka in the Roland Garros semifinals, on the challenge of choosing the right shot to pull from her loaded quiver.

Muchova, the latest in a long line of arresting stylists from the Czech Republic, knows “problems.” Time and again, what once seemed like an inevitable path to tennis glory has been derailed by injury and the painstaking process of rebuilding her confidence and fitness.

By contrast, then, deciding which of her tools to employ at any given moment in a match is a manageable burden—and one that scads of her fellow pros wished they faced.

As Tennis Channel commentator Martina Navratilova put, “She’s old-school. Classic tennis all around. No massive weapon, but her biggest weapon is her variety.”


These days, it takes a novel player to survive at the elite level without a big weapon: an Elena Rybakina serve, an Aryna Sablenka forehand, a Coco Gauff backhand. At 5’11”, Muchova is of adequate size, but there is something inherently delicate, well-expressed in the light tread and elegant game that masks her athleticism that often has her striking the ball airborne, both feet off the ground, with grace and easy—if not overwhelming—power.

Those are valuable assets, but Muchova has paid dearly for them. In 2021, she missed the Australian Open in order to continue rehabbing the abdominal/lower back injury that prematurely ended her 2021 season. Last year, she was working her way back in the spring until, in perhaps her most dispiriting setback of all, she left the court at Roland Garros in tears after a severe ankle sprain cut short her third-round match.

“There have been many moments, many lows, from one injury to another,” the 26-year-old told reporters after her sensational comeback win over Sabalenka. “Some doctor(s) told me, you know, maybe you’ll not do sport anymore. But I always kept it kind of positive in my mind.”




Now that Muchova is a Grand Slam singles finalist she has something besides injury woes in common with her compatriot Miloslav “Big Cat” Mecir. He was a two-time Grand Slam finalist and Olympic singles gold medalist in the late 1980s, but his career crashed after just seven years on tour due to a bad back. Like him, Muchova is a liquid mover whose game is deceptively effortless, but she has even greater variety in her game.

These days, though, the more frequent comparisons are to Roger Federer and Justine Henin, which tells you all you need to know about Muchova’s one-handed backhand slice (her everyday rally backhand is a two-hander). It also gives you some idea of Muchova’s so-called “problem.”

When asked by a reporter some days ago if her shot-selection options ever make it difficult for Muchova to think clearly on the court, she conceded the point. She explained that she might intend to play the first, obvious option, but her flair gets the better of her. She turns to a “third or fourth” option, and suddenly that backhand approach shot is shelved in favor of a feathery dropper that leaves an opponent rooted where she stands.

“It's something, like, terrible. I always am [thinking], ‘Oh, I hope nobody saw this,’ but there are plenty of people around. So, yeah, I’m still working on this.”

Tennis fans who worship at the altar of creativity rather than that of power have long been smitten by Muchova’s game. During the Roland Garros semi, former doubles standout Rennae Stubbs found it hard to curb her enthusiasm:


Journalist Alex MacPherson tweeted that had Muchova been healthy all along, she would long be a Top 10 mainstay. And Patrick Mouratoglou, who appears to coach just about everyone now that Serena Williams is out of the picture, tweeted: “Impressive Muchova who plays this match like she has played already 15 GS semifinals.” This one was her first.

After yielding to Muchova, Sabalenka said: “She was a little bit out of radar, but she always play great tennis, coming to the net, playing really aggressive. Like if she sees these short balls, she’s coming to the net, so it's kind of a little bit tricky to build a point against her.”

Last fall, Muchova struggled to rebuild a ranking that had dropped down to No. 235 at the US Open. She entered a series of sub-tour events, but found no relief and wondered what the future held. “It’s up-and-downs in life all the time,” she said on Thursday. “Now I'm enjoying that I’m on the upper part now.”

More terrible, please.