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French Open: Karolina Muchova wins marathon contest against Aryna Sabalenka to reach maiden Grand Slam final

Unseeded Czech Karolina Muchova reaches her first Grand Slam singles final after a rollercoaster three hour and 13 minute victory over Aryna Sabalenka, who led 5-2 in the third set before Muchova rallied to win a marathon encounter

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Karolina Muchova is through to her first ever Grand Slam final at the French Open, where she will face Iga Swiatek.

Czech Karolina Muchova saved a match point before battling back from the brink against Aryna Sabalenka to reach the French Open women's singles final where she will face defending champion Iga Swiatek.

Muchova, the world No 43, won 20 of the last 24 points to upset the second seed 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 in a contest lasting three hours and 13 minutes, while Swiatek was given by far her best battle of the tournament so far by Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia before the world No 1 came through 6-2 7-6 (9-7).

Sabalenka, who was bidding to win back-to-back Grand Slam titles after lifting the Australian Open trophy, appeared to have turned things in her favour but tightened up in sight of the line and Muchova made her pay.

The 26-year-old is the fourth lowest-ranked woman to reach the final here, while it is the fifth year in a row that the final will feature an unseeded player.

For the fifth-straight year, Roland Garros will have a first-time women's singles finalist

2023: Karolina Muchova

2022: Coco Gauff

2021: Barbora Krejcikova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

2020: Iga Swiatek

2019: Ashleigh Barty and Marketa Vondrousova

A delighted Muchova said: "I don't really know what happened. The atmosphere, it's unbelievable. I just tried to keep fighting and it worked. I'm so happy."

The Czech was playing in her second major semi-final having also reached the last four at the Australian Open in 2021, but injuries severely restricted her last year, with her ranking dropping outside the top 200.

Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic celebrates winning her semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in three sets, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Thursday, June 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Image: Muchova saved a match point and produced a stirring comeback despite dealing with leg problems to win a classic encounter

Muchova has been climbing rapidly this year, though, and can break into the top 10 by lifting the trophy.

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Sabalenka, who has garnered attention off the court for opting out of media duties after being grilled about Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the start of the tournament by one journalist, made the faster start but Muchova grew steadily into the match and made the first big move, breaking for 5-4.

Back came Sabalenka immediately, though, a forehand winner saving a set point and then more crunching groundstrokes earning her the break.

It was a compelling contest between the raw power and aggression of Sabalenka and the more subtle skills of Muchova, who gave a masterful display of using angles and changes of direction as well as being very willing to come to the net.

She is not averse to a winner, too, and produced one from the top drawer on her second set point at 6-5 in the tie-break, drilling a backhand down the line.

Muchova then exploited her opponent's disappointment to break at the start of the second, and the old Sabalenka might have fallen away quickly in a barrage of errors.

But the Belarusian has beaten her biggest rivals this season with an unshakeable commitment to attacking tennis and she regrouped well.

From 0-2 she moved a break ahead at 4-3 only for Muchova to bounce back, but Sabalenka confidently served twice to stay in the match, setting up another tie-break.

Nerves were evident from both and Sabalenka double-faulted on her first set point but powered away an overhead on the second.

The second seed probed for an immediate break at the start of the decider and, although Muchova did superbly to withstand that, a break for 4-2 gave Sabalenka some daylight.

The match appeared over when she forced a first match point at 5-2 but Muchova saved it confidently, and Sabalenka then became edgy, throwing in her worst service game of the match.

At 5-5, Sabalenka, who overcame serving yips last year, sent down back-to-back double faults and Muchova seized her opportunity.

Aryna Sabalenka in action against Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic in the semi-final on Day Twelve of Roland Garros on June 08, 2023 in Paris, France (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images)
Image: Sabalenka appeared to be in control at 5-2 up in the third set

Sabalenka was one of the Russian and Belarusian players sweating over receiving their visas for the UK but the 25-year-old revealed she now has the correct paperwork and will be able to play Wimbledon.

"I'm super excited," said the former semi-finalist. "I really like to play there. I really enjoy the atmosphere. I really missed Wimbledon last year and I just can't wait to come back and show my best tennis."

Swiatek on course for Roland Garros hat-trick

Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates winning her semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament of the French Open tennis tournament against Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia in two sets, 6-2, 7-6 (9-7),at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Thursday, June 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Image: Iga Swiatek was given by far her best battle of the tournament so far

The second semi-final was also a fine battle, with Haddad Maia, the first Brazilian woman in the open era to make the last four here, not wilting at all after her marathon efforts.

She had spent more than twice as long on court as Swiatek but the pair engaged in some terrific extended rallies, particularly in the second set, when Haddad Maia led 3-1 and had chances to extend her opponent to a third set for the first time this tournament.

The best of those came at 6-5 in the tie-break but Haddad Maia netted a tight forehand and, although she saved a first match point in spectacular fashion, Swiatek powered away a forehand on the second before punching the air.

Precious talent

Iga Swiatek is the fourth youngest female player in the Open Era to reach her third final at Roland Garros, older only than Monica Seles, Steffi Graf and Chris Evert.

The 22-year-old said: "It's really amazing. I'm happy that I'm able to play consistently, every year have a good result here, so I'm pretty excited for Saturday.

"It wasn't easy, she's a fighter. I'm happy that I played so well in the tie-breaker. I'm just glad that I was solid and I managed to finish these last shots."

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