The unexpected threat to Iga Swiatek’s French Open defence
“It just shows me that I can play, I can compete,” she said. “Obviously the matches are super close. Even today, match point down, you really never know if I will win or lose, but it’s great to know that I have the chance to win, and I win against the top players, and that for sure boosts my confidence.’’
In the face of Sabalenka’s brutal power, Muchova’s all-court game, variety, and bold shot-making took away her opponent’s rhythm and provided the platform for the upset. Tenacious defence planted early seeds of doubt in Sabalenka’s head, which under increased pressure became a crucial weakness in the final set as the unforced errors mounted.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Muchova said, speechless by the end. There was an answer at the other end of the court, with Sabalenka winning just four of the final 24 points in a spectacular unravelling. “I could see that she was struggling a little bit,” Muchova said. “I was just trying to keep her there.” Down match point, Muchova’s cross-court backhand winner was the moment it turned. There was a ruthlessness there, and a determination to make up for lost time.
Muchova is through to her first grand slam final
“In the past, it was not easy,” Muchova revealed. “That’s actually what makes me appreciate this result even more now, because I know what I have been through in the past. There have been many moments, many lows, I would say, from one injury to another. Some doctors told me, you know, maybe you’ll not do sport anymore. But I always kept it kind of positive in my mind, and tried to work and do all the exercises to be able to come back.’’
Swiatek will be next in her sights. Muchova’s stunning victory took away the chance for Swiatek to avenge her defeat to Sabalenka in the Madrid Open final two months ago, a result that appeared to be seismic as the Belarusian toppled the world No 1 on her favourite surface. The match-up between Swiatek and Sabalenka represented a contrast of defence and attack, a duel of subtlety and outright power. Now Muchova’s victory has flipped what Swiatek would have expected. There will be more of a mirroring of styles.
In theory, it should favour Swiatek. The Pole was given her toughest test of the tournament so far by the resilient and gritty Haddad Maia after coasting through the previous rounds. Against the Brazilian, Swiatek faced a tricky left-hander but was able to find the answers in the second-set tiebreak. The final against Muchova will be more of a test of who executes their gameplan best, rather than a contest of match-ups.
In any case, Swiatek has the experience of this level. The 22-year-old stands on the verge of a third French Open title in four years and fourth grand slam overall. A Swiatek victory would be the first time she has successfully defended a grand slam and would add a further layer to her dominance now her position of world No 1 has been secured. Muchova, though, will not be fazed: beating the best is what she does.
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