At the edge of the court, Mats Wilander was ready to hand him the microphone. In the press box, the titled accounts of Aryna Sabalenka’s victory were ready to be published. Spectators on the Philippe-Chatrier court had already seen almost three hours of a high-level tennis match, undecided for two sets and now victory was looming for the Belarusian, world number 2.
Twenty minutes later, the improbable happened: the Czech Karolina Muchova raised her arms in the center of the Philippe-Chatrier court, to celebrate qualification for the Roland-Garros final (7-6 [7-5]6-7 [5-7]7-5 in 3 hours and 13 minutes of play) which seemed to fall from the sky.
Karolina Muchova? No informed observer would have bet on the 26-year-old player at the start of the tournament. The 43e world had not passed the third round in its four previous appearances in the big table of the Internationaux de France.
During the 2022 edition, the Czech twisted her ankle on the Suzanne-Lenglen court. Suddenly, his journey came to an end. Abandonment. Leaving the court in a wheelchair… A year later, his winning return was signed in the first round by the elimination of the seeded number 8, the Greek Maria Sakkari – his victim, as in 2022.
A high-flying semi-final
His story resonates with that of Alexander Zverev, also qualified in the last four of the men’s table, and having abandoned the previous edition after being dropped by his ankle. But the German and his opponent, the Norwegian Casper Ruud, will have a lot to do to offer, on Friday, a show of the same caliber as the semi-final between Muchova and Sabalenka.
From the height of her 1.82 m, the Belarusian gave the impression of flying over her opponents since the start of the tournament. She had not given up a single set in the first five rounds and we were already considering the clash in the final against the trophy holder, Iga Swiatek, with the double challenge of the Suzanne-Lenglen Cup and the place of world number 1. For the first time since the spring of 2022, an opponent looked set to challenge the Pole’s reign atop the WTA rankings.
But this semi-final very quickly turned out to be something else for Sabalenka. Faced with the power of the player with the tiger tattooed in the crook of her left arm, Muchova deployed a full range of what is taught in tennis school, varying the speed of the strokes, the angles as well as the effects.
After more than an hour of combat, the Czech won the decisive game of a tight first round (7-6 [7-5]). Earlier, she had won the first break of the match by brilliantly returning the first bullets flashed at 182 and 177 km / h.
Karolina Muchova continued to produce her best tennis, and despite having few unforced errors (just five in thirteen games), she was pushed by the Belarusian to another decisive game. In return, Sabalenka is no exception to his credo: hitting flat in the diagonal before then wrapping a forehand on the other side of the court. She thus concludes her second set point (7-6, [7-5]).
A final score to play on Saturday
After more than two hours of play on the clock, worn out, Muchova began to make mistakes. If she already has a Grand Slam semi-final to her credit at the 2021 edition of the Australian Open, the experience speaks for her opponent.
Seven times, since the beginning of 2022, Sabalenka had found herself in a position to have to go up a lap behind. Seven times, the Belarusian had won. And now she leads (5-2) in the third set, with a match point on the service of the Czech. The rest is to be classified in the cupboard of memorable comebacks from the 2022 edition of Rolad-Garros, alongside that of Gaël Monfils against the Argentinian Sébastian Baez.
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Volley, drop shot, slice… Muchova relied on her versatility to achieve this with a healthy dose of risk-taking. A sense of the beautiful game cultivated since childhood by the right-hander. ” I was competitive and liked variety. If you watch videos of me when I was little, you’ll see me going to the net, playing drop shots, she explained after her quarter-final. I’ve always played like that. »
Arrival at Roland-Garros with “the goal of being the top seed at Wimbledon” after numerous injuries, Karolina Muchova is already guaranteed to make a big leap into the top 20 of the rankings. The one whose only title on the list dates back to September 2019 (Seoul, WTA 250) will have a final score to play on the Philippe-Chatrier court on Saturday, against the winner of the match between Iga Swiatek and Beatriz Haddad Maia.
At the end of the game, it was therefore Karolina Muchova that Mats Wilander spoke to, and the 43rd player in the world still seemed disconcerted by her performance. ” I do not know what happened “, she assured, expressing her gratitude for the encouragement of the public, even if the atmosphere had remained hushed in a stadium far from being filled. Defeated, her opponent found the right words to sum up this victory and this unexpected journey: “She just played great tennis”.