Aryna Sabalenka loses to Karolina Muchova in the semi-finals of the French Open 2023.
Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic became one of the lowest-ranked players to reach the French Open women’s final after edging Belarusian second seed Aryna Sabalenka in a thriller.
Muchova, ranked 43rd in the world, won the decider 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 after saving a match point at 5-2.
On Saturday, Muchova, 26, will face either Polish first seed Iga Swiatek or Brazilian 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia.
In Thursday’s second semi-final, Swiatek will meet Haddad Maia, the defending champion.
With Sabalenka out, Swiatek, 22, will retain her world number one ranking, which she has held for 62 weeks, if she defeats Haddad Maia and advances to the final.
Sabalenka, 25, served for the match in the deciding but was overtaken with emotion as Muchova maintained her cool to win in three hours and 13 minutes.
“I don’t really know what happened,” said Muchova, the fourth lowest-ranked woman to reach the final, following Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko, and Renata Tomanova.
“It’s incredible. I attempted to fight on, and it worked. “I’m overjoyed.”
Muchova sat with a towel over her face, contemplating the gravity of her victory, in stark contrast to last year, when she sobbed on her chair at Roland Garros after having to withdraw injured from her third-round match.
Muchova retains her cool but Sabalenka loses hers.
Many anticipated Swiatek to try to set up another final versus Sabalenka when she came out on Court Philippe Chatrier on women’s semi-finals day.
The pair have been the world’s two dominant players this year, having already competed in the clay finals in Stuttgart and Madrid, and both have progressed through the draw to the last four.
But, in a surprise twist, Australian Open winner Sabalenka lost to unheralded Muchova, who has fallen down the rankings due to injury.
Muchova reached the Australian Open semi-finals in 2021 before being sidelined by medical issues, but she has reminded everyone at Roland Garros of her undeniable potential.
Muchova interjected questions for Sabalenka throughout the match, demonstrating her courage to persevere when it appeared she was doomed.
Muchova had fought off four break points for 1-1 in the decider when Sabalenka’s service was broken to trail 4-2.
Sabalenka moved 5-2 up, knowing that two holds of serve would be enough to send her through, but she was unable to complete the triumph when Muchova saved a match point with a crunching forehand.
However, while serving for the set, Sabalenka tightened up – an old flaw that reappeared at the worst possible time as she attempted to reach back-to-back Grand Slam finals.
Muchova’s poor performance allowed her to re-establish parity, and Sabalenka’s jitters increased when she served for a 6-5 lead.
Last year, Sabalenka worked with a psychologist to address the issue of costly double faults, and after discontinuing work with a specialist in pre-season because she wanted to “take responsibility” for herself, she was able to stem the flow in a successful year.
However, the issue resurfaced against Muchova, contributing significantly to her withdrawal from a tournament in which she had boycotted open news conferences to safeguard her mental health and faced inquiries about Belarus’ involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
From a commanding 40-15 lead, the Belarussian committed back-to-back double faults, hit a hard backhand long, and then committed another error to give her opponent momentum.
Muchova, with the fans now behind her, kept her cool and served out to love before accepting the hearty applause of the Chatrier audience.