Iga Swiatek will attempt to win her third French Open title in four years when the Pole faces Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic in Saturday’s final. On Thursday, a dramatic women’s semi-final day at Roland Garros ended with the unseeded Muchova upsetting Aryna Sabalenka, the second seed, scuppering hopes of a rematch between the top two players.
In the first women’s semi-final, Muchova recovered from a 2-5, 30-40 deficit on her serve, winning the final five games of a spectacular battle to reach her first grand slam final with a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5 win over Sabalenka.
Swiatek, the top seed, then moved past Beatriz Haddad Maia, the 14th seed, 6-2 7-6 (7), saving a set point in an intense two-setter to reach her third French Open final.
For over three hours, Sabalenka and Muchova fought hard, producing a high-quality contest that ended with a long awaited breakthrough for one of the most naturally talented players on the tour. Muchova, a former top 20 player and 2021 Australian Open semi-finalist, has seen her career beset by a constant stream of injuries and the 26-year-old’s ranking of No 43 belies her status on the tour.
Afterwards, she said she was told by doctors last year that she might not be able to return. “There has been many moments, many lows, I would say, from one injury to another,” the Czech said.
“For sure when I missed the Australian Open last year, and I was in a pretty bad state healthy-wise, I was working out a lot to try to get back. You never know. Some doctors told me: ‘Maybe you’ll not do sport any more.’ 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.”
From the start of the match, Muchova called upon her deep toolbox of shots to keep Sabalenka off balance. While Muchova looked to match Sabalenka’s firepower with her big first serve and forehand, she also swept to the net whenever possible while peppering the Belarusian with low, skidding slices and drop shots.
The pair battled through two brutal sets before Sabalenka finally seemed to have wrestled the match in her favour. After taking a 5-2 third-set lead and reaching match point on Muchova’s serve, however, Sabalenka crumbled even as the Czech struggled with cramp.
“I think everything has its own time,” said Muchova. “In the past, it was not easy. That’s actually what makes me appreciate this result even more now, because I know what I have been through in the past. To now be in a grand slam final, it’s for sure my dream.”
After an incredible first half of the season, the defeat marked the Australian Open champion’s first grand slam loss this season. A downbeat Sabalenka attempted to focus on the positive aspects of her two weeks in Paris having never previously passed the fourth round. She vowed to learn from the defeat and return stronger.
Sabalenka said: “I think what I was doing and hopefully I will keep doing it this season, that’s incredible, just next level. I don’t look at this tournament as a negative tournament. I think I did great improvement on the clay court, and it’s my best result here.”
Despite Swiatek’s growing aura in Paris, Haddad Maia played her first major semi-final without fear as she imposed pressure on the Pole from the beginning. The Brazilian pushed the No 1 to an intense second set tie-break and forced her to produce her best tennis in the important moments.
As she so often has in Paris, the 22-year-old answered the call, recovering from set-point down to reach another French Open final.