There’s a woman in professional tennis, past and present, who has long caused heartbreak among her peers.
They praise her buttery-smooth strokes, deceptive power, sublime balance, sculptural physique, and seemingly effortless moves, making her the offensive leader on her home country’s basketball team. You can easily imagine yourself playing on a soccer team or playing in center midfield on a football team.
She’s been something of a great indie singer known to those in the know for years, with occasional after-midnight sets at venues in cool parts of town.
If Karolina Muchova stays healthy, they say, take care.
I got it.
Muchova, 26, from the Czech Republic, will face world No. 1 Iga Światek in Saturday’s French Open final after defeating Alina Sabalenka of Belarus 7-6 in a tournament match on Thursday. (5), 6-7(5), 7-5.
Muchova’s entire repertoire was at Roland Garros on a muggy afternoon. A lunge return that floats just inside the baseline. A smashing forehand followed by a dying drop shot. Sabalenka’s most powerful forehand filleting ability is that of a cutting volley that hits harder from her racquet than any shot in women’s tennis and displays a formidable touch like a billiard shark.
she needed everything. And she needed courage too.
Muchova, who dropped match points on serve 2-5 in the deciding set, saved 20 of her final 24 points with a sharp forehand down the line as Sabalenka’s old mistake recurred. and advanced to the Grand Slam final for the first time in his career. Go down the stretch.
“It’s been a little understated, but she always plays great tennis,” Sabalenka said. She said she lost her rhythm after escaping match point. “She’s a little hard to build her points against,” she said.
The major finals are where many thought Muchova should be playing for a long time. By the standards of the Czech Republic, which seems to produce new teenage prodigies every year despite a population of just 10.5 million, Muchova, a late-growing giant, begins her late teens when she grows taller in a growth spurt. I started battling injuries. He grew to 5 feet 11 inches tall, but it also added to his back and knee troubles.
She overcame them to reach the quarter-finals of Wimbledon in 2019 and the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2021. fans) were amazed. However, due to her multiple injuries, including a sprained ankle just after she caught fire in the third round of last year’s French Open, Muchova’s world rankings have risen to 235th, down from a peak of 19th in 2021. Not far, it slumped to 235th place.
“I think I’ve been down a lot from injury to injury,” she said after Thursday’s victory. “Some doctors have said you may not play sports anymore.”
But even as she struggled at smaller tournaments like Concord, Massachusetts, she continued to rehabilitate after rehab to stay positive. Shrewsbury, UK. and Angers in France.
Things happen quickly in tennis. She entered the French Open ranked 43rd, but she was a fearsome unseeded opponent that no one wanted to back down. She defeated No. 8 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece in the first round, dropping just one set in her first five matches. Just like that, she was playing the toughest third set in a Grand Slam semifinal in front of a crowd of 15,000. As she tried to calm down, she heard her trumpets and the crowd chanting her name.
“I had to raise my voice here and there and shout a little bit,” she said, adding, “It was crazy there.”
Saturday’s match will very likely see another frenzy against Swirtek, who won the competition in 2020 and 2022 and has a 13-game winning streak at Roland Garros.
Siwiatek, who turned 22 last week, has had a career that is the exact opposite of Muchova. She won her first Grand Slam title at 19 and became World No. 1 at 20 in April 2022, after Barty suddenly retired at 25.
And while Siwiatek was initially playing the kind of variegated all-court style Muchova has garnered rave reviews from tennis aesthetes, she largely abandoned it early last year in favor of a forehand. He favored a simpler, more aggressive approach centered around taking advantage of every opportunity to explode. and slams her opponent off the court.
can. Siwiatek is so lethal, finishing so many sets with scores of 6-0 (“bagels” in tennis terms) or 6-1 (“bread sticks”) that when she’s around, Twitter says “Iga’s We sometimes get excited about topics related to bakeries. on the court. She doesn’t really like it, saying it’s disrespectful to her opponent.
Thursday’s Swiatek did not do much against tough, determined left-hander Beatriz Haddad Maia from Brazil, especially against Beatriz Haddad Maia, who scrambled the baseline back and forth in the second set to upset her rhythm. I couldn’t get good grades. Unusually, Siwiatek had more unforced errors than winners, going 26 to 25.
Playing in front of a small but choral group of Brazilians, No. 14 seed Hadad Maia sent Swirtek to the ropes. She survived a service break early in the second set and came within a point in the tiebreaker to steal the third set.
Then the Siphiatech again became the Siphiatech the world was used to, especially on the red soil of Roland Garros. She curled a magical backhand at the tightest angle to stay in the tiebreaker and finished the match with a big forehand that Haddad Maia couldn’t reach.
“I’m really looking forward to Saturday,” Swirtek said a little later.
If stylistic contrasts are the secret to great tennis matches, the final between Muchova and Swiatek has the potential to be something special. Siphiatech will try to bite in and smash. Muchova tries to use every weapon he has, keeping Siphiatek guessing what will pop out of his racquet next: slices, killer topspins, and floating moonballs that drop centimeters off the baseline.
For some time last year, it was common knowledge that the only player who could beat Siwiatek was Siwiatek himself. She battled the strain, she said, and she had to play hard to win rather than not to lose.
Earlier this week, after defeating 19-year-old American Coco Gauff in the quarterfinals, Siwiatek said he often calmed down as Grand Slam tournaments progressed into the late rounds. Her nervousness in her early years is released and she can devote her time to enjoying what she has achieved.
But a Grand Slam final is another matter, and so is Muchova. The two had only played once four years ago, before either of them became the person or player they are today. Muchova deservedly won the match in three sets on clay in front of her home crowd in Prague when Światek was ranked 95th.
Since then, the two have practiced together many times, said Siwiatek. Like Bertie, he considers himself a Muchova follower. She finds herself watching Muchova’s matches.
“She can do anything,” said Siwiatek.
Their one match may have a too small sample size to draw any conclusions, but this statistic may speak for itself. Muchova has played five of his matches against top-three ranked players and has won every time.
“This just shows that I can play against them,” she said Thursday. “We can compete.”
Sure she can do it. Her competitors knew that all along.