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Karolina Muchova saves match point, wins final 5 games to outlast Sabalenka in Roland Garros semis
The Czech reached her first major final on Thursday with a marathon 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5 victory.
Published Jun 08, 2023
At the 2022 edition of Roland Garros, Karolina Muchova was wheeled off the court in the third set of her third-round match with Amanda Anisimova after rolling her right ankle.
On Thursday, Muchova added another chapter to much more memorable Paris trip Thursday, advancing to her first major final by ending Aryna Sabalenka’s bid to complete the Australian Open-Roland Garros double.
"It's up-and-downs in life all the time. Now I'm enjoying that I'm on the upper part now," Muchova said in her press conference.
"I was ready to leave it all out there. I did."
The world No. 43 took down the No. 2 seed, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5, saving a match point to become the fourth-lowest ranked woman to reach the championship match at the Paris major. She is the third different Czech woman to appear in the final in the last five years, joining 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova and 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova, and is now a dazzling 5-0 against Top 3 opponents.
Armed with different looks, Muchova’s mix of off-speed slices, flattened-out backhands, deep topspin forehands and cutting off angles with her net rushes proved a formidable challenge for Sabalenka to handle.
When her leads evaporated, Muchova did well to stay the course. Serving at 5-4, Muchova missed a set point to get broken, but stayed selective in picking her moments to pull the trigger. In the tie-break, a 4-2 advantage soon turned to 4-5. When Sabalenka’s forehand went off the rails, Muchova capitalized on her second set point with a screaming backhand winner up the line.
More of the same followed in set two. Muchova’s break advantage was wiped away by Sabalenka's raw power. The Belarusian appeared to take control when she moved ahead to serve at 4-3, only to be undone by her forehand once again. Muchova found constant success in absorbing the pace coming from the other side of the net until it was time to play out a second straight breaker.
Moving away from knifing her backhand, her two-hander broke down. Sabalenka ensured she didn’t let her mini break go to waste to level the contest. And as the third set unfolded, the heavy hitter continued to apply pressure on return. Sabalenka was rewarded in the sixth game with a break and arrived at match point with the Czech serving at 2-5, 30-40.
"At that moment, 2-5, I didn't really know if I'll make it or not. I was just thinking to try and then that she broke my serve and I can break her serve as well," said Muchova. "I was trying to play every point and put her under pressure, try to get back into the game and mix it up with slices and don't give her easy balls, because she was serving really well. I think that and emotionally, yeah, here and there I had to let it out and scream a little bit. I was trying to keep myself calm during the whole match and to be in control of that."
A slew of erratic groundstrokes however, gave Muchova new life in the clash. As Sabalenka’s game crumbled, Muchova stood tall. Successive double-faults from Sabalenka at 5-5, 40-15 were the final straw, as Muchova broke and finished by reeling off 20 of the final 24 points to seal the physical battle after three hours and 13 minutes.
"I was serving for the match, so I think after that game she kind of stepped in and started playing a little bit more aggressive, and I kind of, yeah, lost my rhythm. Yeah, I wasn't there," Sabalenka admitted afterwards.
Among Muchova's final stat sheet notes: 21 for 28 at the net, zero double faults, the employment of 19 drop shots and 14 lobs and five for five on break points. She awaits the winner of two-time winner Iga Swiatek and No. 14 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia.