In effect, Karolina Muchova was an unseeded and unexpected entrant to the French Open semi-finals.
And just one point behind world No. 2 Alina Sabalenka, who entered Thursday with a 12-0 record at the 2023 Grand Slam, including an Australian Open title, despite suffering from leg cramps about three hours into the match. I was about to lose.
Muchova managed to get out of that sticky situation and win her final five games at Roland Garros against error-prone Sabalenka 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 7-5 to make her first major debut. accomplished. The final in her last place she hoped she would.
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“It’s a roller coaster,” Muchova said.
It was hard to tell which was more shocking, Sabalenka’s loss or hers.
“I just tried to keep fighting and it worked,” Muchova said. “I really don’t know what happened.”
Well, here are the basics: Sabalenka held match point in the third set as he led 5-2, but Muchova wiped it out with a forehand winner. With this, Muchova started a good run with 20 of the remaining 24 points.
“After that match she intervened a little bit and started playing a little bit more attacking, and I lost my rhythm,” Sabalenka summed up. “No, I wasn’t there.”
Muchova will face defending champion No. 1 Yiga Swiatek or No. 14 Beatriz Haddad Maia in Saturday’s title match. Their semifinals were scheduled for late Thursday.
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Muchova, ranked 43rd, is the fourth lowest-ranked women’s finalist in French Open history. Meanwhile, she’s 5-0 in her career against top-three ranked players.
The trip to Paris through Saturday was far more complicated off the court than on the court for Sabalenka, with all six opponents unseeded.
Belarus’ role in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine (the offensive began in February 2022 and is still ongoing) and Sabalenka’s position on the issue have resurfaced because she has two Ukrainian adversaries. The confrontation was also a factor.
Asked about the war after each of her first two wins, Sabalenka refused to attend the usual post-fight press conferences after her next two matches because she “didn’t feel safe”. “I wanted to protect my mental health and my health,” he said. – be. “She returned to speaking to her media after winning the quarterfinals.
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“There are some challenges,” Sabalenka said. “Emotional Challenge”
In the 80-degree warmth of Court Philippe Chatrier, Muchova’s versatility and all-court style provided the right combination for one of the game’s biggest hitters.
This is certainly an oversimplification, but think of it this way: Sabalenka tries to hit the ball past her opponent. Muchova tries to hit the ball away from the opponent.
“It’s a little bit difficult to build points against her,” Sabalenka said.
In the third set, Sabalenka’s pressure induced extra mistakes and seemed to lean towards Sabalenka. Muchova’s long forehand broke the serve and Sabalenka took a 4-2 lead and held it 5-2.
That’s when everything started falling apart for her.
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Sabalenka needed one more point to close out the match, but Muchova squandered the chance with a big serve and a quick forehand winner.
“Just one more thing,” Muchova later said.
Sabalenka failed to break there, but then served to win 5-3, but again fell short. Muchova broke 5-4 and sat down to massage her right thigh during the ensuing changeover. Soon, all of a sudden, it became a 5-all.
Sabalenka continued to make mistakes, blaming it all on her racket and trying to get the attention of her aides in the stands so she could change equipment. She recorded 53 unforced errors, almost double Muchova’s 27.
Muchova, stretching between points, just kept hitting big shots.
“I could see her struggling a bit and making early mistakes,” Muchova said.
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The 26-year-old Muchova from the Czech Republic has always felt that her game is most effective in faster conditions. Her best result in the majors to date was in the semi-finals of the 2021 Australian Open on hard courts, and her only WTA title was the one she won. He had never made it past the third round on red clay.
“This is not my favorite surface,” Muchova said at the start of the tournament. “But I think I can play well on this surface.”
I certainly played well enough on Thursday.