Australian star and #1 seed Ashleigh Barty seemed to be cruising to an easy, expected win after a dominant 6-1 first set victory over Karolina Muchova. Up a break at 2-1 in the second set, the end was in sight when Muchova took a medical time out after not feeling well. Whether she lost her momentum or her focus, Barty looked like a completely different player afterward. Muchova came out of the break and broke Barty the next game, who lost all four points on her racket with unforced errors. Both players held serve until 4-3 in the set when Barty struggled through a service game with multiple double faults that ended with Muchova securing her second break of the match. Muchova held serve to love to even the sets at one apiece, again underlined by Barty making three unforced errors in the game alone.
The deciding set picked up right where the second left off. Barty continued looking off, with Muchova taking the first game on Barty’s serve. The players continued on serve with Barty seeming to look a bit more comfortable until 4-2 in the set. Muchova stepped up and played some of her best tennis of the match to take a commanding 5-2 lead. Barty refused to give up easy with two break points in the final game, but Muchova stayed strong, finally serving an ace down the middle to seal a surprising upset. Barty quickly left the court after the match, visibly disappointed with her loss in a tournament she had a serious chance to win.
Whether it was nerves, momentum, or fatigue finally catching up to Barty, Muchova deserves credit for hanging in the match and upping her game at big moments. She battled heat, not feeling well, and the tournament’s top seed to stay calm and advance to the first grand slam semifinal of her career. After not playing all of 2020, Barty may have started to run out of gas midway though the match. She breezed through the tournament up to this point, and this was the first match she played that went to three sets. Barty is one of the fitter players on the WTA Tour, so while maybe unlikely, it is hard to prepare for both the physical and mental challenges of a Grand Slam match. This win is only the third win for Muchova over a top-10 player, with her second coming earlier this tournament against her countrywoman Karolina Pliskova.
Next up for Karolina Muchova
Muchova awaits the winner of the all-American quarterfinal between Jennifer Brady and Jessica Pegula, with all three women looking to play in their first grand slam final, with only one prior semifinal appearance between the trio. Pegula is the big surprise at this stage, never getting past the third round of a grand slam before this week, and never winning a grand slam match outside of the US Open before her successes in Melbourne this year. Brady pulled off an impressive run to last year’s US Open semifinal, but is still new to this stage, with her quarterfinal appearance just her second in her career. Karolina Muchova is just as much of a surprise as the other two, having won just won match at the Australian Open before this year and pulling out of the warm up tournament in Melbourne due to injury. The surprise nature of the top semifinal provides a stark contrast to the firepower of the other semifinal, in what is sure to be an entertaining battle between two women looking to hoist the trophy on Saturday.