PARIS — Unseeded Karolina Muchova reached her first Grand Slam final at the last place she expected, saving a match point and using a stirring comeback to grab the last five games despite dealing with leg problems for a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5 victory over No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka at the French Open on Thursday.
Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January, was a point from finishing off the topsy-turvy, three-hour-plus semifinal at 5-2 in the third set but then collapsed, dropping 20 of 24 points down the stretch.
At No. 43, Muchova is the fourth-lowest-ranked women’s finalist in French Open history.
And the way she managed to get there was rather remarkable.
In the 80-degree warmth of Court Philippe Chatrier, Muchova’s variety and all-court style provided the right mix against one of the game’s biggest hitters.
An oversimplification, granted, but think of it this way: Sabalenka tries to hit the ball past her opponent; Muchova tries to hit the ball away from her opponent.
The third set appeared to tilt toward Sabalenka – who came into the day 12-0 in 2023 Slam matches — when her pressure prompted some extra errors. A long forehand by Muchova resulted in a service break and a 4-2 lead for Sabalenka, who held for 5-2.
That’s when it all began to come apart for her.
Sabalenka needed just one more point when it was 5-2, but Muchova came up with a forehand winner to erase that chance and eventually held there. Sabalenka then served for the victory, but couldn’t close things out, and Muchova broke to 5-4. At the ensuing changeover, Muchova sat down and massaged her right thigh. Soon enough, suddenly, it was 5-all.
Sabalenka continued to struggle, and Muchova — who was stretching between points — simply kept hitting big shots.
Muchova, a 26-year-old from the Czech Republic, has always found that her game worked best in faster conditions: Her best previous showing at a major was a semifinal run at the 2021 Australian Open on hard courts, her lone WTA title came on a hard court, and she never made it past the third round on the red clay at Roland Garros until now.
“It’s not my favorite surface,” Muchova said earlier in the tournament, “but I think I can play good on it.”
Sure played well enough Saturday.