Karoline Muchova had enjoyed a fairytale run at the French Open, beating Maria Sakkari (for the second time in Paris) in the first round to get her campaign underway and the Czech did not look back therafter. She had looked down and out against Aryna Sabalenka, trailing 2-5 in the third set, but somehow rallied to reach her first Grand Slam final. The stage looked set for one of the great tennis stories, on a par with Gustavo Kuerten’s first triumph in Paris, Goran Ivanesevic defying the odds to win Wimbledon as a wild card, or Flavia Pennetta’s memorable victory at the US Open in what proved to be her final match.
The problem for the Czech, however, was that waiting for her on the other side of the net was Iga Swiatek. And whilst tennis has plenty of stories like Kuerten’s, Ivanesevic’s and Pennetta’s, the stories in which the upstart came close but ultimately fell short against one of the world’s best are, perhaps unsurprisingly, rather more common. That proved to be Muchova’s fate as Swiatek – already a three-time Major champion – ground her down. The Pole brought a relentless accuracy and a supreme belief in her own abilities to the match and, ultimately, Muchova’s artistry did not offer an answer.
The writing was on the wall when Muchova was broken in the first game of the match. She dug in afterwards, at least for a while, but the tide of the match was running against her and Swiatek is not often one to let an advantage slip. She broke again to take the first set 6-2 and continued her dominance in the second set with Muchova struggling to cope with Swiatek’s examination of her backhand. Another break for Swiatek early in the second came as no great surprise. What was a surprise was Muchova breaking back to level the match at 3-3.
It was even more a surprise, based on where it had looked like where the match was heading, when Muchova broke again in the 11th game of the second and then served it out to level the match. The Czech then broke again early in the third, only to be pegged back by Swiatek. Muchova, a far more competitive figure than she had been in the first set, responded by breaking again. Swiatek, however, was in no mood to be denied and broke back again, before fedning off a break point to take a 5-4 lead in the decider. That proved to be decisive as Swiatek broke again, sealing a see-sawing encounter and winning her fourth Major in the process.
For Swiatek, victory confirms her position as the predominant force in women’s tennis, as well as reinforcing her grip on the world #1. There will be tests ahead for the Pole, with the big-hitting Sabalenka amongst others looking the likelier favourites to lift the title at Wimbledon. For Muchova, meanwhile, the French Open was a timely reminder of just how good she can be when she can stay fit and with the grass-court season to come, there is reason to be hopeful. But for now at least, the sun is shining on Swiatek.
Main photo credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports