One stroke to the left, another shot to the right, and then a drop shot – that’s how a typical Karolina Muchova rally unfolds. When the Czech defeated Maria Sakkari, again, in the opening round of the French Open this year, it felt like a deja-vu moment, as Muchova would describe it after the match.
And it was deja-vu indeed. Muchova looked like she was at her 2021 best but only better, when she won 19 out 30 matches. This year, she has already won 24 out of 32.
She is moving faster, dominating the service games, and finishing points with brilliant net play. “I just stuck to the plan to be aggressive, mix it up with slices, drop shots,” the 26-year-old said after her first-round win.
Muchova doesn’t shy away from coming down to the net and the stats reflect it - she has won 77 percent net points so far in the tournament.
“I played like that always, I think. I can see that more and more players are coming to the net and trying to play more aggressive and I’m doing the same,” she had said describing her game in 2019.
Against Sakkari and her other opponents, the baseliner used volleys and ground strokes as winners but also kept checking them with a mix of drop and lob shots.
Muchova, who uses a double-handed backhand, has always had the luxury of having too many shots in her armoury. So much so that sometimes, as she admits, she chooses the wrong option. “It’s like black and white. I think it has both sides. It’s very good and it can be a curse as well,” she said.
Despite having the game for it, Muchova hasn’t been able to enter the WTA Top 10 – her best being 19 in 2021. Last year, she again slipped in the rankings after playing the season through injuries.
The problem has mostly lied with Muchova’s return game. While she is able to dictating the game from her serves – having won 76.4 percent of her service games this season – the Czech’s receiving game can still improve. From 2020 till 2022, she won only 28.2 percent of her return games.
What has changed for Muchova this year?
In the ongoing French Open, Muchova has managed to keep a sustained level of energy in the longer rallies – something she didn’t do consistently on the previous three occasions in Paris.
While embracing her aggressive game, Muchova seems to have worked on her execution as well, keeping unforced errors less than 30 in all her games this time – which wasn’t the case earlier.
Her issue with winning return games also seems to be a work in progress as she’s now winning 43.8 percent of her return points and converting 35.4 percent of return games.
The Czech will be up against World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in her first-ever French Open semifinal and although the Belarusian will start as the favourite on paper, Muchova will make it a tough match for her and could also ‘lob’ her to enter first Grand Slam final.
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