Roland Garros Rally: Discussing a thrilling semifinal Thursday, and a hopefully fascinating women's finalBy Jun 09, 2023
Victor Wembanyama, surefire No. 1 pick in NBA draft, bids adieu to France in game at Roland GarrosBy Jun 15, 2023
Analysis: Novak Djokovic has 23 Slams, so is he the GOAT? He leaves that debate to othersBy Jun 12, 2023
Novak Djokovic returns to ATP No. 1 with his 23rd Slam title; Iga Swiatek stays at WTA No. 1By Jun 12, 2023
Novak Djokovic’s 23rd Grand Slam win had all the hallmarks of what brought him to this record-breaking pinnacleBy Jun 11, 2023
Novak Djokovic wins his 23rd Grand Slam title by beating Casper Ruud in the Roland Garros finalBy Jun 11, 2023
Where, when and how Novak Djokovic won each of his 23 Grand Slam titlesBy Jun 11, 2023
Novak Djokovic moves up the list of most Grand Slam titles in tennis history with No. 23By Jun 11, 2023
History: Novak Djokovic passes Rafael Nadal with record 23rd Grand Slam title at Roland GarrosBy Jun 11, 2023
Unseeded Hsieh and Wang win Roland Garros women's doubles after comeback win over Fernandez and TownsendBy Jun 11, 2023
Roland Garros Rally: Discussing a thrilling semifinal Thursday, and a hopefully fascinating women's final
Iga Swiatek fended off a stiff challenge from Beatriz Haddad Maia, while Karolina Muchova rose from the dead against Aryna Sabalenka.
Published Jun 09, 2023
HIGHLIGHTS: Muchova's remarkable comeback against Sabalenka
The Rally returns after Thursday's women's semifinals that saw Karolina Muchova shock Aryna Sabalenka, and Iga Swiatek top Beatriz Maddad Maia—and retain the No. 1 ranking. For another Rally, read Joel and Steve's thoughts on the Novak Djokovic vs. Carlos Alcaraz semifinal.
So many things made today’s Roland Garros women’s semifinals exciting.
Thrilling Thursday began with Karolina Muchova’s incredible 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5 win over Aryna Sabalenka—more than three hours of powerful, dramatic tennis that make this one of the best matches of 2023. From the significance of it as a Slam semi, to various momentum swings, to the comebacks each made, it also was one of those matches where this concept surfaced: It’s a shame that someone had to lose.
This entire Roland Garros, it’s been terrific to see Muchova be healthy after suffering injuries throughout her career, including one that kept her out of the game for seven months in 2021. Hopefully, good health will continue for the balance of Muchova’s career.
“You never know,” said Muchova following the match. “Some doctors told me, you know, maybe you'll not do sport anymore. 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.”
I’ve always greatly admired Muchova’s all-court game. Her eclectic playing style is as close to Ashleigh Barty as any contemporary player, a layered mix of spin, pace, placement and tactical savvy. Call the Muchova game a rainbow of textures and colors. Today, for example, Muchova came to net 28 times (winning 21) and hit 19 drop shots.
“Even if we look back on videos when I was really young,” Muchova told WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen earlier this week, “you would still find me going to the net and playing drop shots. So it was, I would say, always there.”
In the same story, Martina Navratilova said, “She’s comfortable anywhere on the court, and tennis is about making your opponent hit shots they don’t want to hit.”
Muchova will need to draw on all of that as she goes out to play her first Grand Slam singles final versus the highly formidable and experienced Iga Swiatek. They’ve only played one another once. Muchova won, but that was way back in 2019, when the 17-year-old Swiatek was barely out of juniors.
Steve, what are your thoughts about Swiatek, both throughout the entire tournament and during today’s semi?
I’ll start by saying that I felt bad for Sabalenka as she bolted out of Chatrier after losing from 5-2, 0-30 up in the third set. She wasn’t quite at her best for much of this match, but she willed herself to get within a point of making a dream final matchup with Swiatek come true. After staying so much calmer under pressure for most of this season, she couldn’t quite quiet her nerves at the end of the first set, or the end of the third.
That said, I agree that this semifinal was one of the best matches, if not the best match, of 2023 so far, and that it was satisfying to see Muchova, at 26, finally show off her full range of talents on a stage like this. I can remember first seeing her at Wimbledon in 2019, when she upset her fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova, 13-11 in the third set. Muchova already had the smooth, heady, understated, but complete game that you describe above. You might call her a “player’s player.” She doesn’t do any one thing spectacularly, but she does everything a tennis player is supposed to, and does it all well.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish we had a chance to see Swiatek and Sabalenka go toe-to-toe for a Slam title, and for the No. 1 ranking. But Muchova is a worthy substitute, and new stars have to be born somewhere
Now, after beating No. 2, Muchova will get No. 1. You asked me what I’ve made of Swiatek’s Roland Garros performance so far; as I watched her today, I kept thinking of how a coach who saw a young junior with Swiatek’s ground-stroke form might react.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have such an extreme Western grip on your forehand,” the coach might tell her.
Or, “Maybe you should try to make contact a little farther from your body.”
Swiatek’s strokes, in other words, aren’t textbook of flowing, yet they produce an unmatched blend of power and accuracy.
On Thursday, Beatriz Haddad Maia fought as hard as you can possibly fight, especially in the second set. She hit a ton of big, aggressive forehands and backhands of her own, and reached set point in the tiebreaker. But it always felt as if the Brazilian was swimming against the Swiatek tide, and that she basically had to be perfect to beat her. Swiatek missed a little more than usual, but she never hesitated to go for the next winner, and more often than not she made it. In her brazen confidence and her ability to back it up, she’s much like her fellow new-generation No. 1, Carlos Alcaraz.
Joel, what are you looking forward to in this halfway-surprising final-round match-up, between two players with different ways of approaching the game?
These kind of style contrasts are fantastic to watch. I can’t wait to see it all play out.
Let’s start by addressing one part of the mental picture: Nerves. My first hope is that after all Muchova’s been through—from the injuries to the rollercoaster semi versus Sabalenka—that she can be relaxed enough to savor the moment and compete as freely as possible.
Ditto for Swiatek. We all know how hard it is to stay No. 1. And throughout 2023, Swiatek has not been as dominant as she was last year. But I was very impressed with how she closed out the match versus Haddad Maia. What a great tiebreaker that was. When it comes to both grit and game, Swiatek is tremendous.
Then there’s the other mental factor—tactics. As the favorite, Swiatek will open with her strong cards: hard, deep,and very forceful groundstrokes, backed up by her excellent footwork and movement. Swiatek will seek to constantly pin Muchova back behind the baseline, perhaps even by aiming a lot of balls close to the middle of the court as a way of taking away angles. Swiatek also figures to be quite aggressive with her second-serve return. This is yet another way to keep Muchova from trying to construct those disruptive sequences she so enjoys.
Meanwhile, Muchova will try to explore and execute creative patterns that keep Swiatek off-balance. Some could involve the slice backhand, perhaps hit down-the-line and low to the Swiatek forehand that’s hit with an extreme Western grip. Other moments might find Muchova looking to make her way to the net. No matter what, she needs to be the innovator in this match. And given the stakes involved, as well as Swiatek’s experience in Slam finals, this could end up being the greatest effort of Muchova’s career.
Steve, is there another technical, tactical, or psychological factor in this match that you find intriguing?
Scores. Schedules. News.
The TENNIS.com app has everything you need to truly follow tennis.
Tennis is mostly mental, as we know. But that probably goes triple, or more, for Grand Slam finals. You’re not just out there by yourself; you also (a) know the whole world is watching, and (b) know that you’re just one more solid performance from achieving a dream you’ve probably had since you were 5 years old. And after all of that, you’re supposed to treat it like just another day at the office.
In the case of Saturday’s women’s final, Swiatek should have a definite psychological edge, simply because she’s been here before and her opponent hasn’t. Even better, from Swiatek’s perspective, she’s 3-0 in major finals, and hasn’t dropped a set in any of them. Her two previous Roland Garros title matches were blowout wins over Sofia Kenin and Coco Gauff.
So I think you’re right to express the cautious hope that Muchova plays well. We’ve seen other players come down with serious cases of stage fright in these situations, and we know Swiatek gets even more ruthless once she has a set in her back pocket. It’s obvious to say that Muchova needs to get off to a good start on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Still, Muchova has a game that can stand up to anyone’s, and she has more offensive capabilities than either Gauff or Kenin. I always think of Muchova as primarily a finesse player, someone who massages the ball around the court, so I was surprised again by her ability to trade sizzling baseline winners with Sabalenka. She’ll need that same mix of go-big offense and scrambling defense against Swiatek. She can’t give the top seed free rein to dictate, because she’s probably not going to miss as often as Sabalenka did on Thursday.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish we had a chance to see Swiatek and Sabalenka go toe-to-toe for a Slam title, and for the No. 1 ranking. But Muchova is a worthy substitute, and new stars have to be born somewhere. Doing it against the best in the game is the perfect way to make it happen.